May 14, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Liberals brawling at Bankstown….What next?

I am indebted to for drawing attention to a speech in the NSW Parliament by the Labor MP for Bankstown, Tony Stewart.
While it is very much a tongue-in-cheek effort, Mr Stewart implored the NSW Liberal Party to “take its politics back to Mosman and Vaucluse, and keep them out of Bankstown……….Bankstown is an egalitarian community…..what happened on this night is not indicative of Bankstown.”
Mr Stewart was referring to a meeting of the Bankstown Young Liberals to which the police had to be called after a “disturbance” between rival factions.
The Member for Bankstown fingered the NSW Liberal MLC, David Clarke, as being at the centre of the trouble. That caused me to make some enquiries about Mr David Clarke.
If you are disillusioned with the Liberal Party, or politics generally, I would urge you not to look up the ABC’s Stephen Crittenden’s recent interview with Mr Clarke. It will turn you off politics, and especially party politics, forever.
Apparently Mr Clarke is the proud leader of the “religious and conservative” faction that is emerging as a key player in the NSW Liberal Party. His faction seems to be centred around the Opus Dei Movement in the Catholic Church and the NSW Young Liberals.
In Queensland we have ethnic branch stacking……in NSW we have religious, and ethnic, branch stacking. Is it any wonder that, organisationally, the Liberal Party has never been in a more parlous state than it is today?
In the interview, Mr Clarke says the Liberal Party is a conservative party, and the Young Liberals are “very conservative”. In the next breath he proclaims the Liberal Party to be a “broad church”!!
The Liberal Party Clarke wants to see won’t be a broad church at all. It will be an intolerant, homophobic, reactionary, extreme right-wing organization bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the party Robert Gordon Menzies founded 60 years ago.
The Clarke faction will no doubt align itself with the majority faction in Queensland dominated by Senator Santoro – though the Catholic connection might cause come discomfort given that the latter left the Catholic Church for the Uniting Church, and is now a regular attendee at the St Andrews Day Dinner!
But these factions have one thing in common – an intolerance of anyone who dares to proffer moderate political or social views.
When Sir Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party he quite deliberately chose the word “liberal” and not “conservative”. People like the Honourable David Clarke are utterly determined to trash the Menzies tradition forever and turn the Liberal Party into an intolerant, faction riven, extreme right wing organization.
If they believe extremism wins elections, they should have a talk to the ageing hangovers from the Socialist Left in the Victorian ALP. The extremist positions, and occasional stoushes, in the Victorian ALP when the Socialist Left was dominant helped keep Labor out of office in that state for the best part of three decades.
It would appear that the Clarke faction is stacking branches using recruits from Catholic university colleges – especially in the Young Liberals.
Ethnic branch stacking in any political party is dangerous and divisive. Religious branch stacking, and division along religious lines, creates bitterness that lasts for a generation………and is high risk politics to say the least.
It is one thing to encourage Christians to participate actively in the political process. It is quite something else to use a mainstream political party, one that was founded on the basis of tolerance and diversity, for the pursuit of extreme religious and political agendas.
An electorate already deeply suspicious of politicians, and political parties, generally won’t be impressed by a party, or a section of a party, that allows itself to be dominated by either ethnic or religious factions. But that is the reality in Queensland and New South Wales today.

Posted by Jeff Wall at 10:47 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Iam an agnostic but was baptised Catholic (I also did my reconciliation and communion), and this sort of of crap is part of the reason why I lost my faith.
    Extremists on either side of politics have no real place in politics, especially Australian politics where the popular media is quite reactionary and give these people too much coverage.
    This is a sad thing for the Liberal Party, I thought that the Young Liberals would be full of the small ‘l’ variety, not extreme religious right wingers. If these guys get a real grip on the Liberal Party in the future then I think it would make it a difficult environment for your Liberal Party ‘capitalist, corporate business-type’ to exist.
    Where will they go? The Labor Party? or will we see a resurgence of a Free Trade Party? I think I’m being fanciful here; but you never know. What do you think Jeff?

    Comment by matt byrne — May 14, 2004 @ 11:33 am

  2. On top of that, if you want to see where religion and ‘open party’ politics don’t mix, look at none other than the Labor Party with its’ right wing conservative Catholic faction that now (I think) seems to dominate the N.S.W Labor Party.
    What is also ironic about this is that I thought the Liberal Party was the bastion of the Protestant christians and would snub the Catholics (hence their place in the Labor Party) at any given opportunity. (I’m not totally up on all Liberal Party history but I’m sure this was the case)
    Besides, reactionary conservative right wing christians have their place in the Christian Democrats with Fred Nile, not the Liberal or Labor Parties.

    Comment by matt byrne — May 14, 2004 @ 11:40 am

  3. I was a little surprised to note that Alex Hawke of the Right in the NSW Young Libs was a staffer to Helen Coonan. I’d always perceived Coonan to be more of the small l variety of liberal.

    Comment by Mark Platt — May 14, 2004 @ 5:25 pm

  4. Didn’t article have mentcion of guns? Stacking is happening everywhere and the reason for it is simple, individual high standards of self respect and conduct are being eroded by a desire to win political power. Flexable political positions are becomeing more an indication of gutless politicians who will use their party like a flag of convenience. Greens are a good example

    Comment by Ed James — May 17, 2004 @ 5:16 pm

  5. The remnants of the DLP seem to have moved into, and colonised the Liberal Party. It once was the bastion of Protestants, but no longer. The second is not a bad thing, but I think the former is.

    Comment by Graham Young — May 18, 2004 @ 3:06 pm

  6. Come on now people, you see this kind of stuff on every side of politics with every faction in every party.
    Granted, it doesn’t usually end in violence of this nature but that’s probably because on the ALP side at least, ALP members largely keep their mouths shut on internal matters. In the Liberal party however, certain individuals in every “faction” like to over-estimate their importance and mouth off to an increasingly underwhelmed audience.
    In terms of the actual incident, I wouldn’t believe every thing you read in Crikey, Jeff. From what I have heard from people who were there, non-Liberal thugs turned up on both sides and both sides (“factions”) roused up their respective rent-a-crowds by exploiting religious (Christian v. Muslim) differences between the two groups.
    As with most of these things in the Liberal party, neither side has the high moral ground and the only people that gain anything from this stuff are the ALP.
    As to the so-called DLP infiltration of the Liberal party, with respect Graham, that’s total crap. Two high profile Catholic conservatives Tony Abbott and David Clarke is not a mass movement. From my experience in the Liberal party – catholics, like protestants, evangelicals, jews, muslims, atheists etc are spread out all across the policy spectrum of the Liberal party. The ALP by contrast continues to have increasing ghetto-isation of Catholics in the SDA right, especially amongst young people in Victoria – its just that you don’t hear anything about it.
    From a Liberal party perspective, at the end of the day, most Australians are dyed in the wool secular, non-theistic, & sceptical. So long as we have compulsory voting in Australia, the overwhelming majority demographic in the Liberal party will continue to reflect this.
    For the record, I think that’s a good thing.

    Comment by Antonio — May 19, 2004 @ 12:23 pm

  7. Commentators who’ve mentioned the influence of the Catholic conservative bloc embedded in the ALP are right on the money. This is becoming especially pronounced in Young Labor and student politics.
    If the Sydney Morning Herald can be relied upon, the main threat from religious illiberals in the NSW Liberal Party is coming from US-style pentecostals and other fundamentalist Protestants, who in my experience are capable of extremes of nastiness, deviousness and ruthless fanaticism from which even the most reactionary Catholics are held back by the collective discipline and pragmatism of their Church.
    That said, I think that instead of identifying any particular party or religious tendency as more of a problem than others, there needs to be an informal alliance, in defence of liberal democratic ways of debating and doing politics, between people of liberal democratic sensibilities across the spectrums of political positions and religious (or non-religious) beliefs. In my experience (and I say this as a secular leftist and member of the Greens) the most effective neutralisers of religious right authoritarianism are not secular liberals or leftists, but Christians of liberal democratic sensibilities who can persuade their co-religionists that they can be true to their faith and express it politically whilst still remaining within the bounds of democratic civility and democratic constitutionalism. And Soviet-style communism was able to be dismantled peacefully (in the main) in Eastern Europe because of the influence of communists of liberal (or proto-liberal) sensibilities such as Gorbachev, Yeltsin (despite his foibles), Dubcek, Imre Poszgay, etc.

    Comment by Paul Norton — May 21, 2004 @ 12:38 pm

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