Crikey continues to be fed intriguing stories about the WA Libs from a WIDE VARIETY of sources. This time it is “Yuri Young Liberal” dishing the dirt.

The one part of the Party that the present ruling group has not in the past been able to either control or crush is the Young Liberal Movement. Now these young people too have been pushed around in the way that is all too familiar to Liberal Party observers in Western Australia.

The Young Liberals are completing their round of annual general meetings of constitutional branches and have called their Annual Convention. At Saturday’s State Executive meeting of the senior Party, the Immediate Past President of the Party and now Senator, David Johnston, with the support of Senator Ellison, pushed a motion through that the Convention be cancelled and a full audit be carried out on the Movement. The date of the Movement’s Convention is now to be set at some time in the future by the politically vacuous State President of the Party.

The reason for this motion is that cohorts of Senators Ellison, Campbell and Johnston, have been stacking out Young Liberal Branches, however they have not yet taken over enough Branches to win control of the Movement. Cancelling the Convention until a later date gives them further time to complete their efforts before the Convention is held.

This troika are using the Western Australian Union of Liberal Students (WAULS) to take over the Young Liberals. Rather than the recruitment into the Party of new, young, shiny faced innocent enthusiasts, overwhelming it is simply the pooling and pouring into the Movement of members of WAULS, orchestrated by its President, Lorraine van der Ende about whom kind words have on more than one occasion appeared on Crikey.

Having been party to this unsavoury but not particularly rare manner of doing internal political business in the WA Liberal Party, Johnston recently hosted a drinks function for WA Liberal Union of Liberal Students at which he ostentatiously and publicly declared his “full support” for WAULS in contrast to his bitter opposition the the Young Liberal Movement. He then demonstrated the extent of his support by contriving a method at the following State Executive meeting which facilitates the take over of the YLM by WAULS.

In recent times Ellison and Campbell have been no help to the survival or well-being of the Young Liberal Movement. Earlier one of Campbell’s staff had attempted to prevent the reformation of a Branch into which WAULS members have now been funnelled.

Immediately prior to the last State election, a group of young people joined the YLM in the Pilbara town of Karratha and were keen to assist the local Liberal candidate. For no reason other than to block and stymie the Movement, permission to form a Branch was arbitrarily refused.

Now that there are six votes for their Senate pre-selections to be won and with a whole new source of Branch fodder to be plundered, the tactic in dealing with the YLM has changed radically.

The composition of the audit committee is as might be expected of the WA Liberal Party. In a class act, Mr Peter Collier, the President of Curtin Division, has been appointed to the committee. Mr Collier was in part, the subject of Crikey’s earlier article on the Western Australian Liberal Party.

During a tilt at pre-selection at the last State election, Mr Collier submitted membership forms to the Party for approval which contained signatures which purported to be those of the applicants but of which the alleged applicants had no knowledge; a form which he signed in someone else’s name without the person’s knowledge or authority; forms with no signatures, and a form for an underage applicant. Collier is also part of the Johnston push on the YLM.

Not only is there a perception of bias within the membership of the Committee, there is actual bias.

The ever impartial Mr David Johnston in moving his motion, included himself and his drinking mate, the failed federal candidate for Stirling, Mr Bob Cronin on the committee. Cronin is a former editor of The West Australian who was never known for his sympathetic views about the Liberal Party. In his short life in the Liberal Party, Cronin has displayed great animosity towards the YLM and in recent weeks, has been personally involved in stacking out one of its Branches. Having a sixty year old man meddling in the affairs of the Young Liberal Movement is hardly an edifying spectacle.

The motion to now suspend the YLM until a full audit has been carried out, comes in spite of the fact that the State Director, Mr Peter Wells, informed the State Executive that the membership and records of the Movement were in good and proper order and that he had no complaint about them.

The fact that there is not the slightest legitimate suggestion or evidence of any discrepancies or faults with the present records or of impropriety in the conduct or management of the Movement, was no hurdle to Johnston. The State Director’s protestations to Johnston that he had already conducted an audit and found everything to be in order was ignored.

It is however not the first occasion that such a tactic has been used to disqualify one section of the Party. A similar tactic was used prior to the 2001 State Conference at which there was a hotly contested ballot for a new State President. The State Director was instructed to conduct an audit on the Perth Division and its Branches under the pretext that it was to be part of a wider audit of the whole Party.

Branches were disqualified on the basis that a number of joint husband and wife membership applications which were contained on the one form had not been signed by both applicants. No such audit was carried out on any other Division and the State Director subsequently sent out a memo informing them that in their case, husband and wife membership forms must in the future be signed by both applicants. Retrospectivity was to be reserved for the opposition.

Ironically, Campbell and his mates who now control Perth Division had over a third of the Branches in the Division abolished at State Council on Saturday because they cannot find the members or the money to keep them constitutional and it eliminates the risk of others reactivating them. At last count over half of the Branches in the Division were unconstitutional. It might be expected that the troika could at least keep their own Branches constitutional. Such is the health of the Western Australian Liberal Party in the hands of the few.

Peter Fray

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