A winner in Canberra, Senator George Brandis may not be so happy about the decisive swing away from the right that occurred after the drawn out UQ student union elections, which revealed widespread corruption by his faction. History editor Dr Glenn Davies reports.
THE 2013 FEDERAL ELECTION was a long, drawn out campaign starting in January and ending on 7 September 2013 with the ‘turn to the right’ and the election of a conservative Abbott Coalition government. At the same, time student union political groups waged an ideological war on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus for control of one of the last right-wing-held student unions.
The University of Queensland student union (UQU) serves 40,000 students and oversees 120 clubs and societies. Control of the union is considered a rite-of-passage for young Liberals, many of whom go on to work for Coalition MPs. For the past six years, UQU has been a conservative bulwark among the mostly Left-leaning unions across Australian campuses.
Queensland LNP members, such as Senator George Brandis, have long crowed about the Right's control of UQU and hailed their "friends" on the campus. Senator George Brandis has also gloated about Liberal control of UQU, celebrating in Hansard two years ago that it was
“… the fifth year in a row — five out of five — since freedom was introduced at the University of Queensland Student Union, that the Fresh team were overwhelmingly endorsed by the student body.”
Senator George Brandis studied law at UQ and Oxford and then progressed from judge’s associate to a senior counsel at the Queensland Bar. In 1981, he became president of Queensland’s Young Liberals in 1981. Through the 1990s, he was very active within the Liberal Party and entered the Senate in 2000. As a Liberal Senator for the State of Queensland, Brandis has filled a number of different roles, including the Minister for Arts and Sport, the Shadow Attorney-General and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. He is currently the Federal Attorney-General in the Abbott Government.
The 2013 UQU election won by Reform saw a curious swing in votes and a return to UQ’s typically left-wing political trajectory. After a farcical two-month election campaign characterised by allegations of corruption, bullying and dodgy electioneering the result was a ‘turn to the left’. The bitterly fought UQ student elections brought to an end the six-year reign of the right-wing LNP-aligned Fresh group, which finished third behind the left-wing Reform ticket and Lift, a Fresh splinter group. Reform won with a preferential vote of approximately 7,000 students, compared to Lift with 5,000 votes and Fresh receiving only 3,000 votes. These numbers suggest an overwhelming swing in UQ student sentiment towards left-wing change and reform.
Throughout the 1990s and first half of 2000s, the Australian Republican Movement was a presence on University of Queensland campus, particularly during O’ Week. This all changed with the student union elections in 2008. From this time on, Fresh actively stopped the registration of any Club or Society that it perceived as progressive and/or an electoral threat. This included the UQ Republican Club.
It’s clear that Senator George Brandis is a monarchist.
At the 2020 Summit in 2008, he voted against the idea of a republic. In 2008, he also criticised the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his first visit to meet the Queen when he accused him of not making “the customary neck bow” when he called upon the Queen. Also, Brandis delivered a speech at the 2009 Australian Monarchist League National Conference in Sydney to mark the tenth anniversary of the defeat of the republic referendum.
Then, in a 2011 radio interview with Madonna King on ABC612, he stated:
“I support the constitutional status quo. I don't think Australia should become a republic. I don't think it's worth the fuss, frankly.”
Finally, in June 2013, George Brandis was one of 70 (out of 74) Queensland Senior Counsels that chose to become Queen Counsels when the Newman LNP Queensland Government restored the title.
It all started to unravel in late 2012 when LNP Fresh was investigated.
The problems began during the 2012 UQU student election, when right-wing Fresh was accused of rigging the election by changing the rules on registering a party without giving their opponents enough time to comply with the changes. There was widespread protesting by students over the move.
Then, in September 2012, University of Queensland ordered an independent audit to investigate the finances, regulations and processes of the union, after concerns were raised about the ‘transparency’ of the student union election process won by the incumbent Fresh party.
In early 2013, the audit found nearly $64,000 was directed towards Fresh election paraphernalia, including $51,000 for 13,000 T-shirts with the Fresh logo.
UQU elections were again called off in August 2013 after the UQ Union electoral tribunal found the appointment of the Fresh Returning Officer was invalid. Reform was set to win that vote before Lift lodged an appeal. During the student election campaign, there also were several harassment claims filed with the police and a Fresh campaign manual that was circulated highlighted some absurd campaign tactics.
With the 2013 UQU student elections done and dusted, the UQ Republic Club is going from strength to strength on UQ campus, which must have George Brandis furious. The UQ Republic Club is spearheading a new conversation about Australia, our identity and our responsibility to take the future in our hands as a fully independent nation. It is heartening to see young Australians now having the opportunity to wrestle with these ideas.
Student politics at UQ has returned to its traditional left-wing leaning position. But is UQU out-of-step with the rest of the nation or is this a reflection of real-world politics amongst Australia’s young voters?
Perhaps the UQ students have got it right — only time will tell.
Find our more about the UQ Republic Club here. The originals of all John Graham's brilliant caricatures and cartoons that are published on IA are available for purchase at very reasonable prices. If you are interested please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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