The leader of the n Liberal Students’ Federation has been accused of assaulting a fellow club member and intimidating a woman during an ugly stoush at one of the country’s most prestigious universities.
Federation president Xavier Boffa is now the subject of a police complaint and an internal Melbourne University inquiry over an alleged incident that has reignited concerns about the culture of the Young Liberals.
Tensions erupted on Monday afternoon during a meeting of the Parkville-based Melbourne University Liberal Club, where Mr Boffa is also president.
After a heated argument over proposed membership reforms, Mr Boffa – who works for Victorian shadow attorney general John Pesutto – is alleged to have approached a male student from a rival faction and hit him on the thigh.
After the meeting, on campus grounds, it is claimed that he verbally lashed out at a female club member from the same opposing faction, screaming that she was “disgraceful” and “shameful” while demanding that she get out of his personal space.
Last year the same young woman was told she had to be excluded from Liberal club event because, according to Mr Boffa, some members were “a bit uncomfortable about inviting a chick”.
The two students involved in Monday’s incident have since reported the matter to police, and an intervention order has been sought by the woman in the Magistrate’s Court.
Mr Boffa was unable to comment to Fairfax Media due to university restrictions. But sources close to the young Liberal have described the allegations as a “factional hit” by some of the more conservative students, who are reportedly disgruntled by their failure to wield more power in the club.
While it is not in dispute that tensions erupted in the meeting, or that Mr Boffa “yelled loudly” at the woman afterwards, the specific details against him have been broadly denied. One source suggested he was provoked by the woman, while another club member said: “Contrary to the allegations made against him, he did not assault anybody”.
But the incident is not the first time the university club has has come under the spotlight, and have reignited concerns – including among senior Liberals within the party’s organisational wing – about the culture of its affiliated student clubs.
In 2014, for instance, leaked Facebook posts from members described women as “sluts”, Muslims as “degenerates” and described all feminists as “ugly.”
University political clubs can provide young people with a taste of politics and can act as a breeding ground for the next generation of MPs. Melbourne University alumni include federal senator Scott Ryan, federal MP Kelly O’Dwyer, and Victorian shadow treasurer Michael O’Brien.
However, some believe the antics of the Melbourne University club are deterring women from signing up, and have prompted internal debate among senior members about to rein in rogue students. Part of the problem is that while student clubs may carry the Liberal name, and its members often get jobs working for MPs, the clubs are not formally affiliated with the Party.
“So we end up turning a blind eye to this kind of stuff. But as as a woman why would you want to get involved? Some of these places are toxic,” said a senior Liberal source.
Mr Boffa was elected earlier this year as the head of the n Liberal Students Federation – the peak body for Liberal student clubs – as part of an all-male executive. However, his backers say that he has sought to elevate women in the movement, including by putting up two candidates at Monday’s special general meeting.
“Xavier and the club have worked very hard to support women but there’s a group of individuals that have attempted to undermine that,” an ally said.