Struggling for membership, the National Party and its junior counterparts in the New South Wales Young Nationals (YN) are quietly going backwards. It is against the party’s constitution to reject motions put by regular members of the NSW Young Nats before they are debated, but even their Ethics Committee has no problem doing just that. Oh boy, where do I sign up? asks Steph Preston.
The Chair of the NSW Young Nats – Alysia Smith – has had a comfortable career beginning with work as an Electoral Officer of disgraced ex NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, moving into the position of Policy Advisor for Barilaro, and was the Director of Strategy for Angus Taylor’s sister Bronnie Taylor before she was elected as chair of the NSW Young Nationals in 2022.
Smith has come under fire in recent months, after executive minutes from the NSW YN’s executive were leaked to the ABC detailed siphoning of NSW YN’s coffers for the purposes of tentacle-based negative Facebook advertisements, ahead of the 2023 NSW state election.
A nice little earner for the senior party, orchestrated by NSW state director Joe Lundy who had told the YN that the money would not be returned as a consequence of the leak to the ABC.
Seeds of dissent
The problems for this year’s 2023 NSW Young Nationals conference started on 12th of July – the date that Constitutional motions were due to be finalised.
Alysia Smith failed to follow its constitution.
“The Constitution may be altered, rescinded or added to by a resolution of the Annual General Conference, which is passed by a majority of at least two-thirds of the Members present and voting agreeing to the alteration at any single Annual General Conference, or by at least a simple majority of those Members present and voting agreeing to the alteration at each of two consecutive Annual General Conferences, for which at least twenty-one (21) days written notice has been given to members of State Council specifying the intention to propose a motion to alter or rescind the Constitution.”
“State Executive shall fix a closing date for the receipt of motions so that an agenda may be prepared and circulated to members at least seven (7) days prior to the convening of the Annual General Conference.”
One YN member put forward 8 constitutional motions, of which 5 were rejected on grounds which other members described as ambiguous.
General motions for conference were only distributed after the constitutional due date of July 31, 5 days before the conference which was held on the August 5, 2023.
Young Nationals NSW members were quietly concerned following the late and erroneous rejections, and the matter was raised with Jenny Gardiner, the Chair of the Constitution and Ethics Committee.
Advice provided by Jenny Gardiner in emails seen by Michael West Media clarified that it wasn’t for the Ethics Committee to decide if the Young Nationals needed to stick to their own rules (Rumour has it the YN’s Federal Chair Angus Webber was asked by the Ethics Committee Chair to provide advice, as the ethics committee did not know their own function.)
(How a retired member of the NSW Legislative Council who served 24 years in office had to resort to asking advice from someone who is currently only 24 years old is mystifying.)
- “That the NSW Young Nationals affirm its support of the LGBTQIA+ community”
Back to the past
The outright refusal to table a motion of this nature is a far-cry from the Young Nats’ position a decade ago, when the executive fearlessly led the charge for same-sex marriage, and the legalisation of cannabis (and used their war-chest to advocate for their vision – rather than emptying their pockets at the whim of their senior party counterparts).
- “That the NSW Young Nationals call for a logging moratorium in the proposed Great Koala National Park area”
Koalas and the Nats go together like oil and vinegar. You won’t hear that from them, though. If a motion gets rejected before it is tabled and no one is around to hear it, are claims like this any less suss?
- “That the NSW Young Nationals disavow the rise of alt-right extremism”.
The decision of NSW Young Nationals Chair Alysia Smith to reject this motion is curious, following the 2018 NSW Young Nationals Branch Stacking Scandal. The Chair’s ex fiancee Jeffrey McCormack was suspected to be one of the architects of the stack, and was fiercely protected by embattled ex Deputy Premier John Barilaro. McCormack went on to be Mr Barilaro’s Deputy Chief of Staff from March 2020 until Barilaro’s retirement in November 2021.
Penny Sharpe put out a media release calling for a closer look into Jeffrey McCormack, as well as current Dugald Saunders’ staffer Jock Sowter, who was elected NSW Young Nationals Chair at that same conference. Further calls for inquiry came from Walt Secord in NSW parliament.
No voice on The Voice
- “That the NSW Young Nationals support the yes campaign of the Voice to Parliament Referendum”
The Young Nationals used to have a voice of their own. That makes sense. The whole point of a youth-wing conference is to put fresh ideas to their respective senior parties (who can then reject those ideas, by all means.)
After much internal discussion between the Young Nationals, a decision was made on their behalf that even discussing the Voice to Parliament Referendum would be off the table.
Instead a ham-fisted urgency motion was tabled. It passed, 15 votes to 8.
The Senior Party must be proud.
Jayden Whaites (pictured left Hawaiian shirt) was voted in as the new Chair with what sources say was “an overwhelmingly portion of the votes”
Ash Barnham was elected to the position of Vice Chair, uncontested.
Some Young Nats wondered what the function of the party’s youth branch served; taking into account the history of rewarding branch stacking, the extraction of funds set aside for the junior party, and the undemocratic, unconstitutional manner in which the 2023 conference motions were handled.
With the NSW Nationals’ rapidly declining membership, the message seems to be to take what you can before the ship sinks. The Coalition loss at the 2023 NSW state election all but guarantees membership will continue to tank, as cushy ministerial staffer jobs have run dry. Presented with this information, would Nationals constituents still see them as ‘Aussie Battlers’, or ‘Gutless Wonders’?