Who are Young Labor and Young Liberal?

Who are Young Labor and Young Liberal?

Learning how to hate, build and debate policy, and campaign are the qualities members of the major parties youth branches are exposed to.

The seedy underbelly of some Liberal party groups were laid bare last week, with The Sunday Age reporting senior members of the Melbourne University Liberal club had posted racist, crude and misogynist comments on social media, describing women as ''sluts'', Muslims as ''degenerates'' and saying all feminists are ugly.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Similar revelations about a member at Swinburne University followed.

Many politicians cut their teeth in youth politics, particular on university campuses. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has a well-documented record in student politics, while Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was the head of Victorian Young Labor.

But who are the Young Liberals? And their opponents in Young Labor? What role do these clubs and branches play in the wider political game?


"It's where you learn to really hate," a senior Labor operative says.

The idea is repeated by many figures across the ALP, and to a lesser extend the Liberal Party, who say while the youth branches do great work it can be sometimes hijacked by nasty politics breeding enmities that last decades.

In 2011, a rift between the Victorian ALP's Right factions spread into Young Labor with a bitter row over the election of its next president, with allegations of forged ballots and illegal access of personal files.

The stoush involved SDA powerbroker Joe de Bruyn's son Michael and Shannon Threlfall-Clarke, who was backed by the so-called "Short-Cons" (the power blocs associated with Shorten and Labor senator Stephen Conroy) as well as the Socialist Left.

Powerbrokers and warlords in both parties have used the youth branches to identify "talent" in junior ranks and recruit them to their own cause, be it for internal or external fights.

The most activist members of the youth branches or university clubs quickly find work in either the party apparatus or in the office of a like-minded MP.

Both parties agree that there is genuine value in the youth arms, be it the formally aligned Young Labor and Young Liberal groups, or non-affiliated university party clubs.

Current and former members of the groups say they are particularly good places for learning political skills including how to debate and articulate an argument on policy.

It is also where brutal, nasty – and often juvenile – tactics are practised.

Senior MPs and officials say the groups are critical in allowing young people to get involved and exposed to formal structures of the broader party and is a place to identify talent, especially for work in the non-parliamentary arm of parties.

In the Labor Party, being a member of Young Labor means that they can meet and debate with their peers rather than attend branch meetings with old party members.

The enthusiastic political members are particularly useful for campaigning with members often ready at the drop of a hat to hit the phones, knock on doors or staff barbecues to help sell the party message.
The Melbourne University Liberal Club has hit the news for the wrong reasons, and many senior party people including MPs admit the group has had a cultural problem in recent years.

That club has a solid list of alumni including state treasurer Michael O'Brien, and federal colleagues including Scott Ryan and Tony Smith.

Recently elected (but not formally endorsed) Victorian Young Labor president Emily Abrahams views Young Labor, which any party member aged between 14-26 is automatically a member of, as an unique opportunity for youth issues to be pushed into party policies.

She also believes that Young Labor is a forum for issues and polices not tackled by the broader party.

"Young people can look at things in more abstract ways, with less detail while also looking at bolder ideas," she says.

Like many across the party, and indeed also in Liberal ranks, she views the youth arm as an important tool in campaigning as they are "energised and available".

Due to their age, many young members, be it in the formal party group of Young Labor or Liberal, or in the non-official university clubs, are not in full-time work, so are readily available for campaigning.

This year the Young Labor conference threw its doors open to any member who wanted to register in a bid to foster wider involvement in the party. Senior figures believe it was a big success and have pointed to the youth movement in the past as being the pioneers of important social issues, including pushes for greater equality.

In a statement Victorian Young Liberals president Simon Breheny, who also works at the Institute of Public Affairs, said the Young Liberals played a positive role within the party.

"Young Liberals provide vital support to Liberal candidates during election campaigns, and we seek to influence policy through a number of forums within the party," Mr Breheny said.

As Young Liberal president, Mr Breheny sits on the party's administrative committee.

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