File reference: Reg5310, 08/1549
The Australian Electoral Commission affirmed a decision by its delegate to approve a change to the registered abbreviation for the Liberal Democratic Party under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
On 27 March 2013, the Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC) received an application to amend the registered abbreviation of the Liberal Democratic Party (the Party) under Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act). The Party applied to amend ‘Liberal Democrats (LDP)’ to ‘Liberal Democrats’. On 2 April 2013, a delegate of the AEC assessed the application as meeting the requirements of the Act and approved its advertisement for public input.
The application was advertised on 15 April 2013 and three objections to the change to the registration of the Party were received in response to the advertisement. The substantive matter raised in the objections was that the proposed abbreviation of the Party would be more likely to be mistaken for and confused with the registered abbreviation of the Liberal Party of Australia (‘Liberal’), contrary to s.129(1)(d) of the Act, than was the case prior to the proposed amendment. Equally, a reasonable person could think that the proposed abbreviation suggests a connection or relationship with the Liberal Party of Australia (the Liberal Party), contrary to s.129(1)(da) of the Act when no such connection or relationship exists. The Liberal Party had objected to and appealed against the registration of the name Liberal Democratic Party in 2008. The Liberal Party, however, did not take that appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT) despite their right to do so being notified to them by the AEC.
On 25 June 2013, a delegate of the AEC approved the Party’s application to amend its registered abbreviation on the basis that the proposed abbreviation ‘Liberal Democrats’ was sufficiently different from the registered abbreviation ‘Liberal’ so that it was not prohibited by s.129 of the Act.
On 23 July 2013, the AEC received an application under s.141(2) of the Act for review of that decision by a meeting of the Commissioners of the AEC. In its application for review, the appellant (the Liberal Party of Australia) claimed that the delegate had erred in approving the change to the Party’s registered abbreviation. The proposed abbreviation was so similar to ‘Liberal’, the registered abbreviation used on ballot papers by the Liberal Party of Australia for many years, that it contravened s.129(1)(d) and (da) of the Act and should have been refused.
A meeting of the Commissioners of the AEC was scheduled for 7 August 2013 to consider this application. When the Governor-General issued writs for the 2013 federal elections on 5 August 2013, the operation of s.127 of the Act prevented further progress with this review until the return of the final 2013 federal election writ. That writ was returned on 6 November 2013 and a meeting of the Commissioners of the AEC was rescheduled for 14 November 2013.
The Commissioners considered the decision of the delegate and the application for review. The Commissioners noted that the applicant had disputed the registration of the party name ‘Liberal Democratic Party’ and the abbreviation ‘Liberal Democrats (LDP)’ in the past, but had not taken the step of challenging that name and/or abbreviation before the AAT.
On the question of similarity of party names or abbreviations that might lead to confusion or mistake by electors with the name of a recognised political party, or incorrectly suggest a connection or relationship with a registered party, the AEC is guided by two decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT).
The 2009 AAT judgment on The Fishing Party’s application for review of the decision to register the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party stated that:
the words “and Lifestyle” are sufficient to aurally and visually distinguish the two parties as separate entities without risk of confusion or mistake, and would prevent a reasonable person from thinking there was any connection or relationship between the two parties.
Following the AAT’s decision in that matter, the delegate of the AEC considered that the abbreviation ‘Liberal Democrats’ is aurally and visually distinguishable from ‘Liberal’ such that the proposed abbreviation was not required to be refused by the AEC under s.129 of the Act.
The AEC has in the past refused the use of the word ‘Liberal’ in a proposed party name where the applicant party was not a part of the Liberal Party of Australia. In November 2008, the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party applied to change its registered name to ‘Country Liberals’. A delegate of the AEC refused that application on the basis that it was contrary to s.129(1)(d) in that the proposed name might easily be confused with or mistaken for a branch of the Liberal Party of Australia concentrating its efforts on servicing country Australia, similar to the way in which the Country Labor Party acted and was perceived. The applicant party re-applied to change its name to ‘Country Liberals (Northern Territory)’ and its abbreviation to ‘Country Liberals (NT)’. The AEC approved that new application.
While the similarity between the two abbreviations in this current appeal is at the border of what should be permitted and what should be refused, the AEC has followed the AAT judgements and not in the past refused the use of the words ‘Liberal’, ‘Labor’, ‘Labour’, ‘Democrat’, ‘Christian’ and so on in the names of new parties just because those words were already used in the name or abbreviation of another recognised or registered party. Equally, now, we do not refuse the amendment of ‘Liberal Democrats (LDP)’ to ‘Liberal Democrats’.
The Commissioners affirmed the decision of the delegate to approve the amendment of the abbreviation to ‘Liberal Democrats’.
Where the Commissioners of the AEC make a decision affirming a prior decision of an AEC delegate concerning party registration, interested persons are advised that they can make an application to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for further review of the decision.
The Hon Peter Heerey QC
Mr Ed Killesteyn
Mr Brian Pink