Young Liberals

As with so much of the early history of the Liberal Party of Australia, the origins of the Young Liberal Movement are very much tied up with the activities of Robert Gordon Menzies.

Around 1929, Menzies, serving as an Opposition member of the Victorian state parliament, joined with Wilfred Kent-Hughes in the formation of the Young Nationalists Organisation. Menzies became its first President. His organising prowess was such that half of the United Australia Party members elected in the 1932 state election were Young Nationalists - almost trebling their parliamentary representation. Victorian Premier Sir Stanley Argyle was obliged to include three of them in his coalition cabinet, including Menzies who was elevated to the post of Deputy Premier.

The Young Liberal Movement spread from Victoria to the other states, so that by the federal elections of 1946 the Young Liberal Movement was playing a pivotal role throughout Australia in securing the electoral success of the Liberal Party.

Emergence of a Federal Structure

In 1951, the Federal Director of the Liberal Party, Don Cleland, decided that the State Young Liberal Presidents should be brought together for a meeting to see if some formal federal structure could be established. A meeting was organised for Sydney and was attended by representatives from all states. The representatives rewrote the agenda to discuss matters they considered important, and elected the President of Western Australian Division, Billy Snedden, as their Federal Chairman. Peter Hardie of Victoria was elected as National Coordinator.

The meeting was, however, not as desired by the Federal Director. The Federal Young Liberal Committee was given no further attention by the organisation; it never met again, and when Billy Snedden left for overseas in 1952 it ceased to operate. Travel across a large continent was difficult and expensive, so the different state Divisions focussed on efforts within their own jurisdictions.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, no formal federal structure existed. Regular meetings were held among State Presidents at the annual meetings of the Party's Federal Council, but this was the full extent of organised contact. However at the meeting of Federal Council in Canberra in 1966, a motion from Queensland was accepted to the effect that the Young Liberal Movement should constitute itself on a formal national basis. The Federal Council gave in-principle approval, and a draft set of rules was put forward by the Young Liberal State Presidents. The meeting of State Presidents elected Graham Jones (of the New South Wales Division) to serve as Federal Chairman and arrange a formal meeting of the national body.

The first meeting took place in Melbourne on 4-5 March 1967. All states were represented by their Presidents, along with Malcolm Mackerras from the Federal Secretariat and Don Cameron, the recently elected MP for Griffith. The meeting finalised several administrative matters, as well as debating and passing policy resolutions. Later in September that year, the second meeting of the Movement was held. This meeting adopted constitutional rules, and also resolved to withdraw from involvement in the National Youth Council of Australia. By 1968 it had been decided to commence an annual National Convention to attract a large number delegate from across the continent. In 1969, when the senior Party's Federal Council was delayed, it was decided that election of the Young Liberal leadership would occur at the Movement's own National Conventions.

In 1970, the Movement decided that the Federal Chairman should only be elected from among the current members of the Federal Committee. This change was aimed to ensure that only the most politically experienced persons could be elected to the position.

Early International Exchanges

The Queensland initiative to establish a permanent Young Liberal structure at the national level was partly inspired by insights gained from overseas exchanges. In 1960, Charles Porter, the long serving General Secretary of the party's Queensland Division, made a tour to the United Kingdom to observe the operations of the British Conservative Party. Among his main recommendations, Porter advocated an enhanced role for the Young Liberals. Porter was also a leading advocate for the adoption of a number of electioneering practices from abroad, such as survey methods used by the United States Republicans, and training schools as used by the British Conservatives.

The first international visitor to the Young Liberal Movement was Alan Hazelhurst, Chairman of the British Young Conservatives, who visited in July 1968. He would later become a member of the House of Commons and a Parliamentary Under Secretary. In 1969, the Young Liberals sent their President, Warren McCullagh, on a return visit. That year the Movement also decided to seek a visit from an Asian youth leader. However the first such visit did not occur until 1972, when the Movement hosted Jakob Tobing - an advisor on youth matters in the Indonesian Golkar Party.

In the middle of 1971, Stephen Danzansky toured most states as a representative of the U.S. Young Republicans. A lawyer by profession, Danzansky was an advisor in the Nixon White House and was General Counsel for the major White House Conference on Youth held in 1971.

The New Zealand Young Nationals were also to establish a series of reciprocal visits, with Murray McCully attending the 1975 Convention. He was later to become a National Party Minister. Martin Gummer participated in the 1979 National Convention, while Peter Keily visited Australia twice, touring the Young Liberal Divisions in the states of Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales.

Immediately after the 1976 National Convention, a number of Young Liberal delegates travelled to Malaysia and Singapore on a tour organised by the Federal Executive.

In 1981, Young Liberal Vice-President Mark Birrell was nominated to represent the Movement at the first meeting of the International Young Democrat Union, an organisation of youth wings of centre-right parties. The first meeting of the IYDU was held in Washington DC on 18 July 1981 and attracted representatives of 14 youth political organisations from Europe, America, Canada and Australia. In 1982, Elmar Brok Chairman of the IYDU became the first visitor from the IYDU to Australia, attending the 1982 National Convention in Sydney.

Greater Power in the Party

The 1974 Federal Council of the Party agreed to a proposal for the Young Liberals' senior positions to be elected by a Young Liberal Federal Council, consisting of 6 delegates per Division (and held concurrently with the National Convention at which all Young Liberals were eligible to attend). The senior positions were restructured and renamed, resulting in a "Federal President", "Federal Vice-President" and "Young Liberal Federal Executive".

The Young Liberal representation on the senior Party's Federal Executive was expanded to two positions, while the Movement was also given a seat on the Joint Standing Committee on Federal Policy. These changes occurred while the party was in opposition at the national level, and was engaged in serious introspection.

Around this time, the Movement adopted a new set of national regulations and fixed a 16 to 30 year age limit as a national uniform standard. The 1975 election returned the Liberal Party to power and greatly boosted the number of new recruits to Young Liberal ranks. In 1976 the Executive had a full statistical breakdown of branch membership across the continent.

The January 1978 National Convention was the first not attended by the party's parliamentary leader, despite the exchange of some interesting telegrams. Tension had been arising between the Movement and the Liberal government, particularly over neglect of youth unemployment. As a result, a meeting was later arranged with the Prime Minister, which was followed by a Ministerial reshuffle and the creation of a new ministry entitled "Employment and Youth Affairs". Another consequence of this meeting was the creation in 1979 of the National Youth Conference with 120 representatives from structured youth organisations (some 22,000 young people sought to apply to attend the conference).

In 1980, it was decided to create a new Division of the Movement in the Australian Capital Territory (a region surrounding the capital city of Canberra). Later that year, the party altered its constitution, allowing the Young Liberal Executive to formulate policies of the Movement, in-between National Conventions. The first national publication of the Movement was also launched in 1982 under the banner of "The Young Australian".

Visit the Federal Young Liberal Website