Party registration decision: Progressive Labour Party

Updated: 4 February 2011

Refusal of application for party registration

File reference: Reg3210, 2007/968

The delegate of the Electoral Commission determined that the application by the Progressive Labour Party to be registered under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be refused.

Background

The Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC) is established as a statutory authority of the Commonwealth of Australia under s.6 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act). The functions and powers of the AEC are set out in s.7 of the Electoral Act and include to perform functions that are permitted or required to be performed by or under this Act. The delegation powers of the AEC are set out in s.16 of the Electoral Act.

Section 125 of the Electoral Act requires the AEC to establish and maintain the "Register of Political Parties" containing a list of the political parties that are registered under Part XI of the Electoral Act. Section 126 of the Electoral Act sets out requirements for the making of an application for registration as a political party and the AEC is required to deal with those applications as set out in s.132 of the Electoral Act.

The Party application

In an application received by the AEC on 25 June 2007, the person who is the intended registered officer of the Progressive Labour Party (the Party), Mr Bruce Toms, lodged a written application with the AEC for the re-registration of the Party as a non-parliamentary party under Part XI of the Electoral Act. The Party indicated that it wished to receive election funding. Apart from the application form, the Party did not submit any of the pre-requisite supporting documentation necessary for registration, indicating that it would furnish these later. It did so in October 2007.

After an initial consideration of the application by the AEC, a Delegate of the AEC wrote to Mr Toms on 24 July 2008 issuing a notice pursuant to s.131 of the Electoral Act. Section 131 enables the AEC to issue a notice in certain circumstances inviting the applicant to vary an application for registration where after initial consideration of an application for the registration of a political party, the AEC is of the opinion that it is required to refuse the application.

In the notice, the Delegate advised Mr Toms that of the 500 membership forms lodged with the AEC, 116 of those forms were missing either the date of birth or sufficient information to assess that the member is qualified for electoral enrolment. The Delegate stated that the AEC, therefore, cannot be satisfied that the Party has 500 members qualified for electoral enrolment who are not being used to support another party's registration under the Electoral Act. Mr Toms was invited to submit a better set of membership application forms, which both identify at least 500 members fully and provide evidence that each of those members is qualified for electoral enrolment. In addition, Mr Toms was requested to advise the AEC whether he wished the application to proceed in its current form or be amended by the lodgement of the missing information.

In a letter dated 8 September 2008, Mr Toms responded to the Delegate of the AEC stating that the Party is happy to comply with the notice issued under s.131. The by-elections in Mayo and Lyne brought s.127 of the Electoral Act into operation which prevented any further action being taken in relation to the application of the Party during the period from 4 August 2008 to 25 September 2008.

The Party took until March 2009 to supply the missing dates of birth. The Party did not formally respond to the s.313 notice as required by s.131(3) of the Electoral Act, which requires a response to be made by the applicants. Nor did the Party supply satisfactory replacement membership forms to fully identify each member and show his or her entitlement to electoral enrolment. Nevertheless, in March 2009, the AEC conducted a membership test to verify the Party's membership.

Relevant legal provisions

Political parties may apply for registration for the purposes of federal elections in accordance with the requirements of Part XI of the Electoral Act. The specific sections of the Electoral Act relevant to this application are:

The provisions specifically relevant for the current application under consideration are sections 4, 123, 124, 125, 126, 129, 131, 132, 132A and 133 of the Electoral Act. An extract of the relevant provisions [PDF 63KB] is available on this website.

The reader should consult this extract at the link above to see a copy of the legislative provisions applied in the tests below.

Application of relevant legal provisions

Political party

The Party is an organisation based on a constitution. The Party was recognised as a political party by the AEC during its previous registration between 1998 and 2006. The Party's constitution includes an objective to provide all Australians with political representation at a federal level, State/Territory and Local Government Level.

The Party meets the definition of political party in s.4 of the Electoral Act.

The application

The Party's application was not accompanied by the $500 fee, from which it is relieved by submitting its application within the year allowed for political parties deregistered under the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act 2006.

The Party satisfies the technical requirements in s.126 for an application for party registration except as discussed below under The Membership Test.

The constitution

The Party has a constitution that was provided with its application. The constitution contains the following matters relevant to registration:

  • an aim of promoting political representatives to the federal parliament;
  • identification of the role of secretary; and
  • detailed membership criteria.

The Party's constitution satisfies the requirements of the Electoral Act.

Secretary

The Party's application was signed by the secretary. The role of the secretary is well defined in clause 8 of the Party's constitution and involves co-ordinating the correspondence of the Party and other administrative duties.

The AEC believes the Party passes the test of having an identifiable secretary.

The membership test

Subsection 123(1) of the Electoral Act defines an "eligible political party" as a political party that is either a Parliamentary party or has at least 500 members.

Subsection 123(3) of the Electoral Act indicates that a member of a political party means a person who is both a member of a political party and is entitled to enrolment under the Electoral Act (see Part VII for the enrolment requirements).

Subsection 126(2) of the Electoral Act requires that an application, to register a political party that is not a Parliamentary party, be accompanied by a list of the names of 500 members to be relied on for the purposes of registration.

The criteria for membership, including the payment of a membership fee, are set out in the Party's constitution. The statutory declaration by the secretary states that each of the members on the list (originally provided in October 2007) has been accepted as a member of the Party in accordance with the rules of the Party.

In response to the notice issued under s.131 of the Electoral Act by the Delegate of the AEC on 24 July 2008, the Party provided a revised list of 504 members in March 2009 that included date of birth details for each member. However, the Party did not provide missing membership application forms where all 504 members signed as applicants to join the Party and verified their particulars, including both date of birth and entitlement to electoral enrolment.

In considering an application, staff of the AEC conduct a series of tests to assist the AEC or its Delegate, to determine whether the AEC may be satisfied that an applicant party has at least 500 members, including:

  • removing from the list members under 17 years of age;
  • removing any duplicate memberships from the list;
  • removing the names of people who have already been used by another party to establish its eligibility for registration; and
  • conducting a random sample test for membership to verify if there are at least 500 members as required by the Electoral Act.

The check of removing names from the Party's membership list disclosed only 1 cross-party member. There were no internal duplicates listed or members under 17 years of age listed.

The test of membership involves contacting a random sample of 20 people from the membership list by phone and by mail if necessary. Where more than one of the randomly selected people from the membership list denies being a member, then the membership test has been failed. The membership tests are intended to allow the Delegate of the AEC to be satisfied that an applicant Party has the required 500 members.

The AEC conducted a random membership check during March-April 2009. Of the 20 members that were contacted, 16 people confirmed their membership of the Party and 4 people denied they were members of the Party.

The AEC cannot be satisfied that the Party has the necessary 500 members to be eligible for registration and, therefore, the it does not satisfy the eligibility criterion in s.123(1)(a)(ii) of the Electoral Act.

Party name

Section 129 of the Electoral Act prohibits the registration of parties with certain names. This is called the names test. Two parts of the names test are relevant to this application. They are that a name is prohibited if:

  • it so nearly resembles that it is likely to be confused with or mistaken for, the name of an unrelated political party already registered at the federal level, or with an unrelated political party already registered at the state or territory level which has endorsed a candidate in a state or territory election in the previous five years; or
  • a reasonable person would think it suggests a connection or relationship between the party and a party registered at the federal level if that connection or relationship does not exist.

The other federally registered parties which need to be considered in terms of s.129(1)(d) and s.129(1)(da) of the Electoral Act because they feature the word "labour" or "labor" are the Australian Labor Party (registered 10 times in various names describing party branches) and the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) of Australia. State or Territory registered parties that need to be considered under "recognised" political parties include the Australian Labor Party branches and the Victorian branch of the Democratic Labor Party.

The AEC obtained advice on the matter of prohibited names and of the name Progressive Labour Party in particular, and is of the view that it does not have reason to reject the name Progressive Labour Party.

Conclusion

The Australian Electoral Commission is not satisfied that the applicant Party has 500 members as required by s.123 and s.126 of the Electoral Act. Despite being offered the opportunity of a notice under s.131 of the Electoral Act, the Party did not lodge a full set of signed membership application forms giving full details and electoral enrolment entitlement. The results of the test of 20 random members did not satisfy the AEC that the Party has the 500 members to be eligible for registration.

Accordingly, as Delegate of the Australian Electoral Commission, and pursuant to s.133(3) of the Electoral Act, I have determined that the application by the Progressive Labor Party for registration as a political party should be refused.

Paul Dacey
Deputy Electoral Commissioner
Delegate of the Australian Electoral Commission

1 June 2007

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