The University of Tasmania Liberal Students was founded in 1945, to advocate for centre-right, mainstream political ideals with a political philosophy focussed on limited government power, low taxes, individual responsibility, a focus on the family and a strong belief in rewarding initiative and private enterprise.


The Mercury Newspaper article reporting on the founding of the club - 5th July 1945

Our foundation

‘The increasing complexity of politics called in a greater degree than ever before for the services of educated men’ said then Leader of the Opposition the Honourable Henry Seymour Baker MP (later Sir Baker KCMG, DSO) at the inaugural meeting of the newly formed University of Tasmania branch of the Liberal Party on Wednesday the 4th of July 1945. With this meeting, the club became the fourth University Liberal Club in Australia after the Melbourne University Liberal Club in 1925, the Sydney University Liberal Club in 1933 and the University of Western Australia Liberal Club in 1944. Mr Baker said in conclusion to his speech that “the issue of the future of Australia would be fought out between the Liberal and Communist parties”.

The following executive and representatives were elected at that meeting:

President: Mr D. W. Burbury
Vice-Presidents: Miss M. Fyvie Watt & Mr E. L. Nicholls
Secretary: Mr B. Lyons
Treasurer: Mr L. E. L. Bath
Committee: Miss H. M. Bowling, Messrs. O. F. Dixon, and K. B. Fenton
Delegates to State Council: Miss H. M. Bowling, and Mr O. F. Dixon

The Club was not the first political movement at the University of Tasmania. The ‘Australian Soviet Friendship Society’ requested to affiliate with the University in 1942 but was rejected by the then Student Representative Council (SRC). It wasn’t until the 17th of April 1945, three months before the Liberal Club, that the University Labor Club was launched by the then Tasmanian State Secretary of the Australian Labor Party Mr Ernest West MHA Member for Wilmot (Lyons).

The meeting was notable due to the 40 Liberal supporting students who attended the inaugural meeting wearing as the Mercury reported: “red ties, with gaily coloured handkerchiefs in their buttonholes, and with red streamers trailing from their clothes.” The group of Liberals massed at the rear of the meeting room while the approximately 15 ‘intimidated’ prospective Labour members sat in front. Mr West tried to control the meeting, however, was left to deal with interruptions throughout. In answer to a question from the back of the room as to whether the branch was to have communist tendencies, Mr West said “the ALP did not wish to bring to light any fantastic dreams”, “Did they include nightmares?” Mr West was asked in reply.

Keeping the liberal cause

While in 1945 a student poll found that 31% of students believed there was some Communist influence at the University, by the 60s the issues of the South African Apartheid, the White Australia Policy and Vietnam dominated the debate amongst the student population.  

Initially, attitudes about the Vietnam War were conservative, with most students supporting the war. However, the following decade saw opinions shift and the international movement of student militancy peaked in influence in Tasmania. Passions were more strongly aroused over Vietnam and conscription. A Togatus survey showed that while more students than before were in favour of Australia's presence in Vietnam (57%), more were also opposed to conscription (60%).

In 1966 one of the first student protests against Vietnam was part of a nationwide ‘Day of Action’ against sending conscripts to Vietnam, initiated by the National Union of Australian University Students (A predecessor of the National Union of Students/NUS). This ‘Day of Action’ was almost halted however, when the Liberal Club censured the SRC. As reported in ‘Student Liberal’ the club magazine, the objective was not that it wished to force all students to accept its views on Vietnam however to show that “it is not one of the functions of the Students’ Union to make political pronouncements on matters such as this, but it should be left for individual students, or perhaps the political clubs, to decide for themselves whether they should oppose conscription or not.”

The censured was eventually overturned however and on the ‘Day of Protest’, eighty students in academic gowns handed out pamphlets in the streets. It was reported that Hobartians generally accepted them, though some “vocal intolerants” used bad language, and the SRC reported with pride that the Tasmanian protest was the most orderly in Australia. During the protest eight members of the Club handed out pro-war leaflets while also dressed in their academic gowns.

The pro-war leaflets distributed by the Club on the NUAUS national 'Day of Action' - 6th October 1966

Life Member and fomer President, Senator Eric Abetz flyer for the SRC elections - 1980

Life Member and fomer President, Senator Eric Abetz flyer for the SRC elections - 1980

Resurgence on campus

The late 1970s brought change again for Liberals on campus. A newcomer to the club Arts/Law student Eric Abetz helped bring about a resurgence in the continued fight against compulsory union membership. With Eric as spokesman, the Liberals came back into prominence in these years. “The Liberals wanted to identify with what they believed in, and being soft on lefties didn't make them want to be involved”, he said. His support base was the Liberals themselves, the Christian Union, Catholic students, and the colleges, where “the students were young and red-blooded, and they didn't take kindly to left wing propaganda. They were relatively easy to mobilise. If I talked about the referendum or the election, I needed 50% plus one of about 20% of students. So if I could command 10% support on campus, I'd win". Eric was quoted as explaining.

Labor students were not happy about this, and reprimanded Eric when they could, several times for "scurrilous publicity seeking". Eventually, he was sent before the Discipline Committee for having brought the Union into disrepute, by saying the SRC used gutter tactics. It was the first time for years that the Discipline Committee had sat, and it contained an SRC member who had seconded the motion that Eric be disciplined. Eric attacked this, and also "got stuck into them on the issue of free speech", the case was dismissed.

Voluntary student unionism

Voluntary student unionism continued as a significant issue in the 1980s. The Club argued that the often Labor dominated unions did not provide valuable services, and compulsory membership was undemocratic; the opposition argued that unions did provide essential services and that, because attendance at university was voluntary, union membership was voluntary.  

In 1980 the State Liberal opposition introduced voluntary unionism in the Tasmanian Parliament but was defeated after heated debate. In 1983, under Liberal Premier Robin Gray, the issue surfaced again when the Government introduced similar legislation. The then University Council backed by the Student Union lobbied the Government to set up a form of voluntary unionism: students could opt out of membership, but still had to pay the fee, renamed the Services and Amenities Fee. Few students took this alternative, only 55 students in 1985, for example.

In that same year with the leadership of Guy Barnett as President, the Liberal Club invited the Premier to address students. A Mercury Newspaper article reported that there were rumours that eggs and tomatoes would be thrown at Gray, and students would be violent. In the event there was no violence, though over a thousand students came to hear Gray; he spoke competently, but the vast majority of the crowd was against him.

Over a thousand students came to hear Premier Robin Gray speak at the Stanley Burbury Theater

Annual O-Week Sports & Societies Day 2013 with Club Vice-President Claire Chandler, Member for Denison Elise Archer, President Christian Street and Member for Pembroke Vanessa Goodwin

Annual O-Week Sports & Societies Day 2013 with Club Vice-President Claire Chandler, Member for Denison Elise Archer, President Christian Street and Member for Pembroke Vanessa Goodwin

Student politics

As with many other similar politically-aligned university clubs around Australia, the Club has run both endorsed and independent tickets for annual student union elections with varying degrees of success. The Club continued with this trend into the new millennium where Club members ran for both student union and NUS delegate positions.

While nationally Liberal students have always tended to receive around 5% - 10% of votes, three times since 2000 the Club has been successful in gaining an equal or majority of Tasmanian delegates. In 2012, Club Vice-President Claire Chandler was elected to the position of Tasmanian State Branch President after a tie 3-3 vote (against National Labor Students) at the National Conference hosted at Monash University. In 2015 and 2016 Club members obtained a majority of the NUS delegate positions,  the first time Liberals had received a majority of the State positions. Club members were also instrumental in the successful campaign to disaffiliate the TUU from the NUS in December 2016.


  • 1945 - Mr. D. W. Burbury

  • 1946 - Mr. J. P. Sinerville

  • 1947 - Mr. W. S. Morrison 

  • 1948 - Mr. D. Lovibond

  • 1949 - Miss R. Y. Dakin 

  • 1950 - Miss R. Y. Dakin

  • 1955 - John Freeman

  • 1961 - Paul Fenton

  • 1962 - Paul Fenton 

  • 1965 - Michael Alan Whitehouse 

  • 1966 - Robin K. Dulfer-Hyams 

  • 1967 - Robin K. Dulfer-Hyams

  • 1968 - Grame Pitt

  • 1974 - Phil Ryan

  • 1976 - Cynthea Walch

  • 1978 - Eric Abetz

  • 1979 - Eric Abetz 

  • 1980 - Eric Abetz 

  • 1981 - Guy Barnett

  • 1982 - Guy Barnett

  • 1983 - Jamie MacDonald

  • 1985 - Craig McCarthy

  • 1987 - Andrew Hoffman 

  • 1992 - Liam Speden 

  • 1998 - John Kennett 

  • 1999 - John Kennett 

  • 2001 - Andrew Preston 

  • 2002 - Joe Aston 

  • 2003 - Jonathon Duniam 

  • 2007 - Whittney Jago

  • 2008 - Whittney Jago

  • 2009 - Trent Hasson 

  • 2010 - Christian Street

  • 2011 - Christian Street

  • 2012 - Christian Street

  • 2013 - Christian Street

  • 2014 - Christian Street

  • 2015 - Blake Young

  • 2016 - Blake Young

  • 2017 - Thomas Bearman

  • 2018 - Clark Cooley

  • 2019 - Clark Cooley

A special thanks to: Kevin Bonham, Saul Eslake, Donna Powell, Guy Barnett, Eric Abetz, Claire Chandler, Jonathon Duniam, the University of Tasmania Special & Rare Collections, the University of Tasmania Library, the State Library of Tasmania, Togatus, the Mercury Newspaper and the National Library of Australia.  
Excerpts from: Alexander, Alison (1999). State of the Union: Tasmania University Union 1899–1999. Hobart: Tasmania University Union.