As the young politicians-in-waiting from the broad Left celebrated victory in last week’s Melbourne University student elections, disgraced Liberal Club President Brendan Rowswell was pondering an alternative career path.

The disgraced Sophie Mirabella staffer was “encouraged” to withdraw his candidacy after a transcript of his anti-Semitic rant was leaked to the unforgiving Ellen Whinnett at the Herald Sun. To add to the ignominy, Rowswell was later ordered to take up work experience at the Holocaust Museum to atone for his Mad Mel-inspired tirade (as reported in yesterday’s Crikey and Friday’s Australian Jewish News).

The story surfaced after a rival MU Liberal club faction bugged the campaign room as direct payback for the original “Rowswell-gate” incident in July. At the John Howard-endorsed Liberal Students Federation AGM, busy Brendan charmed onlookers by “nuzzling” his face into a fellow delegate’s breasts. Young Tories took sides amid the rancour and an aggrieved group of feminist freedom fighters, led by ousted vice-president Jayde Lovell, have been plotting revenge against the “BOYZ club” ever since. Costello-aligned state Liberal overlord Julian Sheezel finally intervened last week when it looked like Whinnett’s story might gain traction.

The decision to bug a room is rare but not unprecedented in student politics. During the lead-up to the farcical 2004 NUS conference, one Labor faction threatened to plant a radio transmitter in a rival caucus room and broadcast the entertaining audio on FM radio across Carlton. Presumably, nobody was listening or cared but you’ve got to love these kind of spurious power plays.

With the election done and dusted, the Young Lib bad behaviour might be expected to subside. But after last week’s shenanigans, both the Howard and Costello camps will be doubly sure to distance themselves from future flare-ups perpetrated by a crew of unhinged uglies that make the young Conservatives of the Maggie and Denis era look like the Baader-Meinhof.

Peter Fray

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