Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lapsed Liberals - The Story of the Centre-Right in NSW

Part 1

I feel the time has come to document the history of a strange phenomenon in the NSW Liberal Party. This phenomenon was a powerful network of centre-right activists who have left the Party and are making names for themselves in the private sector. They left the party following the 2001 Federal election, and were victims of the takeover of the Young Liberals and the conservative faction by the Liberal equivalent of the Taliban.

My first exposure to a Liberal meeting was after I ran for the Macquarie University Students Council in 1993. I secured the second highest primary vote under the team named Multicultural Alliance. Number 2 on my ticket was Bill Mahmassani, a young Aussie from Rydalmere. Bill is actually Bilal who appeared with his wife on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope program. I came second in primary votes to a socialist candidate Jamie Parker, now a Greens Councillor.

After my election to the Council, various political factions approached me for support. These included a left-wing group called Students Against Racism (SAR), a cover for Labor Zionists. Then there was the Macquarie University Liberal Club. Their president was Megs.

Megs was my first contact into conservative politics. Before writing about her, I must acknowledge that I am not exactly an unbiased source. Megs is a close friend. She has worked with me in political matters, as well as for me as a clerk.

Megs was no ordinary conservative. Yet she was so typical of the young centre-right network of which I was to join. Megs was and remains a devout Anglican, an old girl of a Christian College and the president of the Club. She spoke fluent Bahasa Indonesia. She was one of the rising stars of the young conservatives.

ALSF was the Australian Liberal Students Federation. It was a network of university Liberal clubs, and had a troublesome relationship with the NSW and National Young Liberal movements which represented Young Liberal branches.

My first experience as a campaign worker was helping Charlie Lynn out at Werriwa in the 1993 by-election. I was part of a crowd of ALSF delegates that included Sophie Panopoulos.

I remember Sophie as a moderate Victorian who would not tolerate any criticism of some guy called Petro Georgiou. I had no idea of who Petro was. After spending an hour with Sophie, I soon learnt that Petro was the Victorian Liberal Party equivalent of the Son of God.

In 1993, I also joined the Bankstown Young Liberals. With me were a whole bunch of young people who formed the backbone of the Macquarie University Liberal Club. These were young students, with moderately conservative views.

I was recruited to the branch by Lukas and Pete, two loud-mouthed and entertaining law students I met in final year. Lukas was half Italian and lived in Greenacre. He was absolutely brilliant, having won a scholarship to study at a Grammar School. He reminded me of Aticus Finch from the movie “To Kill A Mockingbird”. He was a brilliant public speaker. Despite his nerdy looks, Lukas was always surrounded by gorgeous women who treated him as their brother and adviser.

Pete was an Indian from Goa. He was a devout Catholic and was Lukas' closest buddy. Pete was the Vice-President of Bankstown Young Liberals, and Lukas was President.

The thought of joining a Young Liberal branch in the heart of Paul Keating’s electorate after he won the “True Believers” victory in the 1993 election was too good to miss. Our branch patron was a moderate Liberal MLC named Stephen Mutch. I attended my first Young Liberal drinks function at Stephen’s office in Parliament House. There I met many more Liberal students and Young Libs.

Among my newly-found mates was Nick, the Casanova of the Young Libs. Nick was of Russian background and was also from a pivate school. He and his father Alex were both members of the Liberal branches in Bankstown. Alex is fondly remembered for always having a smile on his face. He has since passed on, and we remember Alex in our prayers.

Then there were a few other notables in the Young Liberals. There was Aruna, a an amazing sub-continental intellect with a mind brimming with ideas that could bring a man to intellectual orgasm within 5 minutes if he wasn’t careful. Aruna was Secretary of Bankstown Young Libs. Lukas and Aruna often pretended to be having an affair, though their uni cafeteria antics were usually designed to shock all the young Indian boys lining up to proposition her.

Jason was a dashing handsome young law student who used to dance like there was no tomorrow. He was good mates with Gunn, another bright spark of German descent. Gunn was without doubt the spunkiest Young Liberal on the planet. He was also a real SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy), with a soft empathetic voice that drove women nuts.

Paul was also part of our network. He had a passion for Palestinian politics, perhaps more related for his love of Palestinian women. It was often a struggle to keep him away from some of the Muslim sisters who he frequently tried to chat up. Paul was a passionate Liberal, an idealist who wanted real change in the Party.

These were my crowd. If they recognise themselves here in this piece, I welcome them to contact me and advise of any changes to this article. As this is a blog, there is nothing to stop me from making changes or subtractions.

This will hopefully form part of a definitive history of one of the most important periods in conservative politics, a period in which the centre-right network ruled the roost without controlling the Party in NSW.

(The author was president of Bankstown Young Liberals and was endorsed Liberal Candidate in the 2001 Federal Election for the seat of Reid.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005