Application for changed abbreviation approved – Liberal Democratic Party

Updated: 4 July 2013

File reference: Reg5122b, 08/1549-4

The delegate of the Australian Electoral Commission determined that the application to change the abbreviation registered for the Liberal Democratic Party under Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 should be approved.

Background

Each application to change an entry in the Register of Political Parties is assessed against the requirements in Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act).

On 25 June 2013, a delegate of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) approved an application from the Liberal Democratic Party (the Party) to change its registered abbreviation under the provisions of Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) from ‘Liberal Democrats (LDP)’ to ‘Liberal Democrats’.

The AEC received an application from the Party on 27 March 2013 and advertised receipt of that application on 15 April 2013 as required by s.134 of the Electoral Act. Three people lodged objections against the proposed abbreviation and the Party responded to the content of those objections on 12 June 2013.

Content of the objections against the proposed name

Section 132 of the Electoral Act requires the AEC to advertise some applications it receives under Part XI of the Act, including applications to change party names and abbreviations under s.134 of the Act. Section 132(2)(b) requires the AEC to advertise to invite objections from any person who believes a change of name or abbreviation should not be made because:

  • the application is not in accordance with the requirements of s.134; or
  • the name or abbreviation sought is prohibited under s.129

to lodge a written objection giving particulars of that belief.

Three written objections were lodged and published on the AEC website while the Party was invited to respond to them:

Collett

The first objection addressed grounds not invited under the Electoral Act (that the abbreviation might be a problem for the United Kingdom with the Liberal Democrats being a party represented in the UK Parliament) and was not further considered.

Liberal Party of Australia

The Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia lodged a detailed objection concerning both the previously accepted 2008 change of name for this Party to the Liberal Democratic Party and in particular the proposed shortening of its abbreviation to ‘Liberal Democrats’.

The decision to register the name ‘Liberal Democratic Party’ and the abbreviation ‘Liberal Democrats (DLP) was approved in December 2008 and reviewed by the three Commissioners of the AEC in February 2010. While the Liberal Party of Australia was one of the applicants for review in that case, it did not seek the further review of that decision which was available at that time by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (the AAT). Arguments that have now been lodged relating to that 2008 decision were not further considered for this current decision.

The Liberal Party of Australia argued that the proposed shortening of the registered abbreviation for this party from ‘Liberal Democrats (LDP)’ to ‘Liberal Democrats’ would increase the likelihood of:

  • the abbreviation of ‘Liberal Democrats’ on the ballot papers being confused with or mistaken for the abbreviation ‘Liberal’, and should be prohibited under s.129(1)(d); and
  • the abbreviation of ‘Liberal Democrats’ being one that a reasonable person would think suggests a (non-existent) connection or relationship with the Liberal Party of Australia, and should be prohibited under s.129(1)(da).

The Liberal Party of Australia makes cogent arguments to support their view. However, there are two AAT decisions to guide the AEC in these matters.

The AEC is guided by:

  • the 2001 AAT judgment that the AEC was in error in refusing an application for registration from the ‘liberals for forests’ because the name was too similar to the Liberal Party of Australia and its abbreviation ‘Liberal’. The AAT directed the AEC to register that party, [2001] AATA 166; and
  • the 2009 AAT judgment that the AEC was correct in registering the ‘Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party’ against the objection of ‘The Fishing Party’ that the name was too similar and misleading, [2009] AATA 170.

The Liberal Party of Australia pointed out that the relevant sections of the Electoral Act had been amended since the 2001 AAT judgment concerning the ‘liberals for forests’ decision, however the amendments do not seem to materially affect the reasoning in that decision. The relevant amendments require the AEC, under s.129(1)(d) to also consider names of parties registered under state and territory law which have recently endorsed candidates in the relevant state or territory election. Another recent amendment (2004) is the addition of the requirement in s.129(1)(da) to consider whether a reasonable person would think the proposed abbreviation suggests a connection or relationship with the Liberal Party of Australia when that connection or relationship does not exist.

Both these amendments were in force for the 2009 AAT judgment on The Fishing Party’s application for review of the decision to register the Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party. In that judgement the AAT said 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 considers that the word ‘Democrats’ is sufficient to aurally and visually distinguish between ‘Liberal’ and ‘Liberal Democrats’ such that the proposed abbreviation is not required to be refused by the AEC under s.129 of the Electoral Act.

Doe

The third objection addressed the similarity between the names of the ‘Australian Democrats’, the ‘Liberal Party of Australia’ and the ‘Liberal Democratic Party’. It further commented that the proposed abbreviation of ‘Liberal Democrats’ could increase the likelihood of confusion between the parties. This objection made arguments that were considered above when dealing with the objection from the Liberal Party of Australia. On balance, the AEC determined that the proposed abbreviation is not required to be prohibited under s.129 of the Electoral Act.

Conclusion

The delegate of the AEC approved the application to change the registered abbreviation of the Liberal Democratic Party.

25 June 2013.

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