File reference: Reg5309, 13/253
The Australian Electoral Commission affirmed a decision by its delegate to register the Uniting Australia Party under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918.
On 25 March 2013, the Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC) received an application to register the Uniting Australia Party (the Party) as a political party under Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Act). On 15 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 24 April 2013 and three objections to the registration of the Party were received in response to the advertisement. The substantive matter raised in the objections was that the proposed name of the Party would be mistaken for and confused with the United Australia Party which had applied for registration under Queensland State legislation and was intending to apply for registration under the Act. Two objectors raised the question of confusion with the historical United Australia Party which was a major federal party in the 1930s and 40s.
On 5 July 2013, a delegate of the AEC approved the Party’s application for registration on the basis that the AEC had no ground on which to refuse it.
The delegate accepted that the two party names, Uniting Australia Party and United Australia Party, are so similar that they are likely to be confused with or mistaken for one another and the second one applying would be prohibited under s.129(1)(d) or (da) of the Act. However, the Uniting Australia Party was the first application received. While the United Australia Party achieved Queensland State registration on the same day that the delegate registered the Party, the Queensland party would not become a recognised political party under s.129(1)(c) or (d) of the Act until a Queensland election is held at which the Queensland party endorses a candidate.
The fact that a party with a similar name had applied for registration under State or Territory legislation or intended a future application for registration under the Act found no support in the Act for refusing the registration of the Party.
On 4 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 (one of the objectors to the application for registration) claimed that the delegate had erred in approving the registration of Party when it’s proposed name was so similar to the United Australia Party, a party well-known in Queensland where it had applied for registration and well-known federally where it had historical connections to the United Australia Party in the federal Parliament in the 1930s and 40s.
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 accepted that the name Uniting Australia Party is so similar to the name the United Australia Party that if the second party had standing to bring it within the provisions of s.129 of the Act, it might have prevented the registration of the first party.
The provisions of s.129 of the Act are quite specific and the United Australia Party would have to have qualified as a ‘recognised’ political party under s.129(2) before it could prevent the registration of the Uniting Australia Party. The United Australia Party was not so qualified when the Uniting Australia Party was registered as no Queensland State election had been held at which the United Australia Party could have endorsed a candidate to become a ‘recognised’ party.
The Commissioners affirmed the decision of the delegate to register the Uniting Australia Party.
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