Gay rights are at risk of future rollbacks from conservative elements in the Liberal Party, following right-wing branch stacking in a range of Liberal organisations.

Young Liberals and NSW Liberals are recruiting members in large numbers in an attempt to shift policy further right, according to party sources.

And the rightward push appears to be succeeding, with conservative Christian members gaining a majority on the NSW Liberal party’s executive last week.

Young Liberals national president Alex Hawke used an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald last week to speak out against moderate NSW Liberals and their support for progressive measures including an equal age of consent for gay men.

Nobody joins the Liberal Party to be left-wing, Hawke said.

If you stand for compulsory student unionism, drug-injecting rooms and lowering the [homosexual] age of consent, you can choose the Greens, Labor or the Democrats.

Hawke’s comments indicate a sharp shift to the right in the Young Liberals since 2002, when their NSW wing called on MPs to vote in favour of an equal age of consent for gay men.

Hawke’s comments met with a sharp rebuff from NSW Liberals leader John Brogden.

But this week Liberal party sources told Sydney Star Observer the comments reflected a push to shift party policy to the right.

[Right-wing Liberals] are recruiting members to the party from conservative religious organisations, Liberal City of Sydney councillor Shayne Mallard said.

It’s undeniable that the parties are being stacked at the moment.

Mallard said the move to the right, including renewed focus on issues such as gay age of consent and abortion, was alarming.

I think it should be alarming for most mainstream Australians that any party is going to become marginalised to a very narrow base of issues, he said.

The president of a Sydney branch of the NSW Liberal party, who asked not to be named, told the Star the far right’s branch-stacking was happening everywhere that they can see they can get a foothold into.

There have always been left-wing branches but now the right wing is trying to take over branches -¦ and putting all their church people in.

The branch president said those behind the current rightward push were the same people who allegedly made homophobic comments at a NSW Liberal party meeting in Bankstown last year.

That meeting turned into a brawl after right faction members allegedly called the left poofter lovers who were pro-gay marriage.

The right’s success at NSW Liberal party executive elections last Friday strengthened the push for a conservative agenda, the Sydney branch president said.

In the vote, the right-wing Christian faction of the party won eight of the 12 positions available, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Conservatives now have 12 out of 20 seats on the NSW Liberal party executive, which has an important say in party preselection and conflicts over branch-stacking.

They already control the Young Liberals’ national and NSW divisions and the presidency of the state Liberal Women’s Council, The Sydney Morning Herald said.

Asked to comment, Hawke told Sydney Star Observer it had been a very turbulent few weeks but would not comment on branch-stacking.

Gay activist Rodney Croome said the NSW Liberals’ move to the right mirrored a broader political shift.

This isn’t an isolated event. It’s possible to see a trend in the Liberal party in Australia not only towards the right but towards an agenda of rolling back gay and lesbian human rights, Croome told the Star.

The shift to the right and certainly the roll-back of gay and lesbian human rights has really been on the agenda since the Bush and Howard electoral wins last year, when it was perceived by the right that gay-bashing wins elections, Croome said.

He predicted attacks on gay and lesbian rights at the next NSW state election if the rightward shift continued.

If the mentality that we’re seeing from the Young Liberals prevails, then there’ll be a very definite agenda at the next NSW state election to roll back LGBT rights.

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