The National Union of Students’ annual conference wound up last night and, amid the tiresome undergraduate horse trading, a band of renegade Young Liberals found themselves in serious trouble with the local police. In the early hours of Monday morning, just hours after the conference kicked off at Ballarat Uni’s Mt Helen campus, two hapless parliamentary-wannabes, Helen Kroger staffer Gideon Rozner and Francesco Cambria, were arrested and forcibly removed from the campus and bundled into a divvy van for public drunkenness, spending the night luxuriating at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Victoria Police confirmed to Crikey this morning that one of the two remains under investigation for criminal damage.

Rozner and Cambria are members of radical Young Libs offshoot the Australian Liberal Students Federation, whose semi-crazed left-baiting often turns ugly. Lacking influence inside the conference, it clearly all got too much for Rozner and Cambria, who were collared after the cops were called to intervene in a savage shouting match. Rozner puts his impressive VCE results down to membership of the ALSF, but after the latest incident might be advised to distance himself if he values his career.

The ALSF has form in Ballarat — at the 2006 conference damning footage turned up on Lateline of members proclaiming their racism, s-xism and homophobia as the cameras rolled, shaming their political masters in Canberra and exacerbating the split between the party’s more moderate wing, who quickly distanced themselves. Their brawling with the moderates is often as savage as the vitriol directed against the ALP and the Trotskyites of Socialist Alternative. Reasoned ideological interventions are clearly not their strong suit.

The ALSF were also behind the Make Education Fair campaign, designed to drive “left-wing” academics off campus. A few months ago, they produced this extraordinary 322-page submission into a trumped up Senate Enquiry into academic freedom that was later summarily dismissed. Their Make Education Fair website has since been pulled from the web, but the more embarrassing claims live on thanks the wonders of Google’s cache.

Also of interest at Ballarat was the split bubbling away in warmer climes, with the Queensland Young Libs embarrassing beleaguered Queensland LNP leader Lawrence Springborg by refusing to swear allegiance to the state coalition.

The conference-ending NUS ballot will be held today and should result in a Labor Left President and a Labor Right General Secretary, strengthening their ALP’s stranglehold over the student union peak body. In 2009, the Young Libs will again be limited to shouting from the sidelines — but if the recent actions of their finest up-and-comers are any guide, it should suit them just fine.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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