Similarity to names, abbreviations or logos of currently registered parties

Updated: 26 August 2020

Each application to enter a political party, or change a political party’s name, abbreviation or logo, in the Register of Political Parties (the Register) is assessed against the requirements in Part XI of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Electoral Act).

The AEC considers all applications under Part XI in accordance with the requirements of the Electoral Act as interpreted by courts and tribunals.

Key concepts

Section 129 of the Electoral Act outlines the requirements for registering party names and abbreviations and section 129A of the Electoral Act outlines the requirements for registering party logos.

The Electoral Act also defines the following terms that are related to the requirements for political party names, abbreviations, and logos:

  • ‘political party’ means an organisation that promotes and endorses (or aims to promote and endorse) a candidate or candidates for election to the Australian Parliament;
  • ‘Parliamentary party’ means a political party that has at least one representative in the Australian Parliament; 
  • ‘registered political party’ means a political party that is on the Register;
  • ‘recognised political party’ means a political party that is:
    • a Parliamentary party;
    • a registered political party; and/or
    • recognised or registered under a state/territory’s electoral law and has endorsed at least one candidate for a state/territory parliamentary election in the previous 5 years under its current party name.

Two political parties are ‘related’ to each other if one is part of the other, or both are part of the same political party — for example, a federal party and its state/territory branches are ‘related’.

Party names and abbreviations: section 129

Section 129 of the Electoral Act provides that the Electoral Commission must refuse a party’s application for registration if the party’s proposed name or abbreviation:

  1. a. is more than 6 words long;
  2. b. is obscene;
  3. c. is the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of an unrelated recognised political party;
  4. d. so nearly resembles the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of an unrelated recognised political party that the proposed name or abbreviation is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that name, abbreviation, or acronym of the unrelated party;
  5. da. is one that a reasonable person would think suggests that a connection or relationship exists between the applying party and an existing registered political party if that connection or relationship does not in fact exist; or
  6. e. comprises the words “Independent Party” or comprises or contains the word “Independent” and:
    1. the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of a recognised political party; or
    2. matter that so nearly resembles the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of a recognised political party that the matter is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that name, abbreviation, or acronym.

Party logos: section 129A

Section 129A of the Electoral Act provides that the Electoral Commission may refuse to register a party’s proposed logo if the logo:

  1. is obscene;
  2. is the logo of any other person;
  3. so nearly resembles the logo of any other person that it is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that logo;
  4. is one that a reasonable person would think suggests that a connection or relationship exists between the applying party and an existing registered political party if that connection or relationship does not in fact exist; and/or
  5. comprises the words “Independent Party” or comprises or contains the word “Independent” and:
    1. the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of a recognised political party; or
    2. matter that so nearly resembles the name (or an abbreviation or acronym of the name) of a recognised political party that the matter is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that name, abbreviation, or acronym.

Administrative Appeals Tribunal decisions

The following is a general summary of three decisions by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Tribunal) in which the Tribunal provided guidance on the interpretation of sections 129 and 129A of the Electoral Act.

This summary is not to be taken or relied upon as legal advice. Prospective applicants to the AEC or Tribunal should obtain their own legal advice before taking steps related to issues raised in this summary. 

  • Woollard and Australian Electoral Commission and Liberal Party of Australia (WA Division) Inc [2001] AATA 166 (6 March 2001) (Woollard).

    This case was a review of the Electoral Commission’s decision to refuse to register the “liberals for forests”. As part of this review, the Tribunal considered whether the name “liberals for forests” so nearly resembled the name and abbreviation of another recognised political party (the Liberal Party of Australia) that it was likely to be confused with or mistaken for that name or abbreviation.

    The Tribunal found that, whilst there was resemblance between “liberals for forests” and “Liberal Party of Australia” and “Liberal”, this resemblance was not such that there was any real risk that the name “liberals for forests” would be confused with or mistaken for the “Liberal Party of Australia” name or the “Liberal” abbreviation.

    Accordingly, the Tribunal set aside the decision of the Electoral Commission, and substituted a new decision that “liberals for forests” be registered.

    The Tribunal also provided the following commentary about paragraph 129(1)(d) of the Electoral Act:

    Political parties in Australia use, and historically have used, in their names generic words such as “Australia”, “liberal”, “labour”, “democrat”, “national”, “christian", “progressive”, “socialist” and the like. Absent clear language to contrary effect, the disqualifying provision is not to be construed so as to lock up generic words as the property of any organisation when it comes to names that can be used on the ballot paper.

    …The term “liberals for forests” is a combination of words emphasising a specific issue and describing a party by a name different from that of the Liberal Party of Australia or any of its State divisions...It is unlikely that any elector, seeing the two names on a ballot paper, will draw the conclusion that “liberals for forests” is a political party related to the Liberal Party of Australia or any of its State divisions.

    Paragraph 129(1)(da) was inserted into the Electoral Act in 2004 following the Woollard decision.

  • The Fishing Party and Australian Electoral Commission and The Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party [2009] AATA 170 (17 March 2009).

    This case was a review of the Electoral Commission’s decision to register The Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party. One of the matters considered by the Tribunal was the proposed name’s similarity to The Fishing Party (which was already registered) and whether the registration of the new party should therefore be prohibited.

    The Tribunal affirmed the Electoral Commission’s decision to register The Australian Fishing and Lifestyle Party, stating 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.

    The Australian Government Solicitor has previously provided advice to the AEC in relation to the interpretation of paragraphs 129(1)(d) and (da) of the Electoral Act (as at August 2007). Further detail is available at Legal advice on Electoral Act paragraphs 129(1)(d) and (da) - similar names (August 2007)

  • Watson and Australian Electoral Commission [2018] AATA 4914 (20 December 2018)(Watson).

    This case was a review of the Electoral Commission’s decision to register a logo for Australia First Party (NSW) Incorporated (Australia First) that contained an image of the Eureka Flag as one of its elements.

    One of the matters considered by the Tribunal was the similarity of the Australia First logo with other entities’ logos or trademarks that included an image of the Eureka flag, and whether the registration of the Australia First logo should therefore be refused.

    In considering paragraph 129A(b) of the Electoral Act, the Tribunal determined that the Australia First logo was not ‘the logo of any other person’.

    In considering paragraph 129A(c) of the Electoral Act, the Tribunal found that, whilst the Australia First logo (as a whole) resembled the logo of “any other person” (specifically, the logos of other entities that also contained the Eureka Flag), the Australia First logo did not ‘so nearly resemble’ those logos such that it was ‘likely to be confused with or mistaken for’ those logos.

    The Tribunal also found that, when determining the likelihood of mistake or confusion, trademarks that are used in an entirely commercial context are irrelevant.

    Accordingly, the Tribunal affirmed the Electoral Commission’s decision to register the Australia First logo.

Further information

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