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The Young Liberal Movement of Australia

Liberal_logo Background provided by Alexander Drake, who has served as secretary of the Queensland Young Liberals, as a ministerial adviser to the Howard government in Canberra, and as a member of the UK Conservative Research Department.

This is a short note on the Young Liberal Movement, the youth wing of the Liberal Party of Australia.  The Young Liberals were present in 1981 at the first meeting of the International Young Democrat Union in Washington DC, which attracted representatives of 14 youth political organisations from the UK, Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

Historically, centre and centre-right political parties in Australia have defined themselves not as Conservatives in their own right, but as being in opposition to Labor.  This meant that during the first half of the twentieth century, the anti-Labor centre-right frequently regrouped under different names.

The modern Australian party system we know today didn't take shape until the great Sir Robert  Menzies - Australia's longest serving Prime Minister - began to form the Liberal Party of Australia from the ashes of the old United Australia Party, in 1944.  Menzies had previously been an active and highly successful youth conservative activist in his home state of Victoria during the 1930s, and was anxious for the Liberal Party to replicate this success nationally.

Once the Liberal Party had been officially inaugurated on 31 August 1945, attention turned to the creation of a Young Liberal Movement. After a great deal of planning, a meeting was held in the Melbourne Town Hall on 12 December 1945, attended by over 750 people, and at that meeting the Young Liberal Movement came into being.

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.  The Liberals, in coalition with the Country (now National) Party, won the 1949 federal election, and remained in office continuously until 1972.  The Liberal-National coalition has been in office in Australia federally for all but sixteen years since 1949.

During the 1950s and 1960s the Young Liberals lacked a proper national structure.  However, in 1966, it was decided that the Young Liberal Movement should adopt a formal federal structure, the essence of which has remained in place ever since.   As befits a federal structure, each state division - one for each state, and the Australian Capital Territory - sends the same number of delegates to the annual Federal Council of the Movement, which in turn elects a president and vice president for its leadership roles, and to represent the Movement on the Liberal Party's Federal Executive. 

The Young Liberals provide many different opportunities for people between 16 and 30 to get involved in the things that they want to do and offer an exciting program of political, campaigning and social events. The Young Liberals provide a diverse range of events so that all of their members may enjoy entertaining, informative and fun functions, depending on their tastes. They also offer the opportunity to network with other young people with similar interests, and meet and influence Members of Parliament.
In addition to that, Young Liberal branches hold regular meetings and functions. The Young Liberals have a distinguished history in the areas of policy development for the party, and ideas that begin with one person convincing their branch to support it often become Liberal Party policy.

Finally, despite the near-complete transformation of Australian politics to being a professional activity, the enthusiasm of the Young Liberals remains vital for the Liberal Party to project a campaigning presence on the ground during election campaigns. 

It is no coincidence that the two most electorally successful Liberal leaders - Sir Robert Menzies, and John Howard - were strong supporters of the Young Liberals.  In particular, the current Australian prime minister John Howard was the first president of the Young Liberals in his home state of New South Wales.  Many current and past state and federal Liberal MPs and Senators began their political apprenticeship in the Young Liberals, including several current serving ministers in the Howard government. 

Frequently the relationship between the Young Liberals and the rest of the Party has been rocky, often because the philosophical direction of the Party has been different to that of the rest of the Party.

For example, the 1978 Young Liberal 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 led by Malcolm Fraser, particularly over neglect of youth unemployment.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Movement frequently articulated views at odds with the rest of the wider Party, and its parliamentary leadership.  The Movement was frequently seen as one of the wider Party's more visible critics, due to the fact that it is always easy to attract media attention for diverging views within a political party. The Movement is generally seen now as being very supportive of the views and policies as articulated by the Howard government. 

The Young Liberal Movement is a vital part of the Liberal Party, in order to develop Australia's leaders of tomorrow. Many prominent Australian politicians have used their skills gained in the YLs to succeed in politics, such as John Howard, but more importantly the Young Liberals provides skills and friends that are invaluable throughout life across many careers and other endeavours.  It is literally the future of the Liberal Party of Australia.

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