Established in 1933
Founded in 1933, the Sydney University Liberal Club (SULC) is a non-profit student association and the oldest and largest Liberal Club in Australia. Former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and John Howard hail from the Club, as does NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
In fact, for at least 40 years, every New South Wales and Federal Liberal Ministry has included an alumnus. In the Abbott Government, the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, Treasurer Joe Hockey, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Manager of Government Business Mitch Fifield and Government Whip Philip Ruddock are all SULC alumni.
Each year, the Club hosts the John Howard Debating Cup, an intervarsity debating competition between seven Liberal Clubs across New South Wales. Since it was founded in 2010 by Club President Alex Dore, the Howard Cup has attracted notable conservative adjudicators from across Australia including Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison, Alexander Downer, Lucy Turnbull, Janet Albrechtsen, and Peter Reith. Each year the final is adjudicated by Club Patron, John Howard.
The Club also holds policy debates, annual dinners, pub crawls, student election campaigns, and guest speaker events. It is an affiliate of the Australian Liberal Students Federation (ALSF). Historically, it held two state council delegates within the Liberal Party.
The Club retains strong ties with the Liberal Party. In 1945, the same year that the Liberal Party of Australia was founded, former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies chaired its Annual General Meeting (AGM). Later, Sir Menzies would deliver a notable address on the "forgotten people" to it, and in 1953 again chaired its AGM.
In 1964, Sir Billy Snedden, who would later face Gough Whitlam in the 1974 Federal Election as Opposition Leader, addressed a SULC dinner. "You can rest assured that the Government will not introduce legislation which will produce a powerful bureaucracy," he declared.
The Club has even warranted mentions in Tony Abbott's Battlelines and John Howard's Lazarus Rising. Beyond its start date, early records are scant. For example, in 1972 a columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald claimed that SULC was created by Gordon Barton and Francis James in 1940/1.
Within weeks, he was rebuffed by the brother of John Appleby, who he claimed had actually created the organisation years earlier – an account later verified in a comprehensive biography on Gordon Barton. Even though Barton did join SULC, and did get elected to its Executive Committee with friends, he played no role in its creation – not even attending university at the time.
The source of this confusion is explained in a biography of Barton. While Barton played no role in creating SULC, he did attempt to create a Sydney University branch of the Liberal Party on October 7 1949 at the Phillip Street Law School. This fiery meeting soon descended into chaos marred by disagreements over voting rights. Consequently, the creation of the branch failed, and Barton instead began a journal for the existing Liberal Club, The New Liberal, which has since been supplanted by Turning Point.
Importantly, SULC has also played a pivotal role in leading the policy debate – and remains the only Liberal Club at Sydney University. In fact, at a time when both major parties supported the White Australia policy, it was SULC that, in 1958, circulated a memorandum called "White Australia in a Changing World" at the Liberal Party Convention in Sydney.
Within that document, it declared the xenophobic policy – introduced by the Australian Labor Party, and only later abolished by the Liberal Party of Australia – to be "the greatest stumbling block in our foreign policy that exists today." "It is to our own advantage in every way that it be changed", the document noted. "From a hard practical point of view we cannot afford to maintain it." Just years later, the Liberal Party adopted this position and dismantled the policy.
In 1952, when the Federal Government sought to cut book and magazine imports by 40 percent, its protests made the Sydney Morning Herald. The SULC President at the time, noted that with over 80 percent of textbooks imported, academics "seem to have been more concerned with the freedom of a gang of Communist agitators than they are with intellectual freedom for their own students today." Nearly 60 years later, Liberal Students led the charge against Compulsory Student Unionism.