On Wednesday afternoon, the Liberal Democrats lost their High Court case and will be forced to change their name after a legal challenge was brought by the federal Liberal Party. The High Court ruled that new electoral legislation was valid.
“It [the decision] is a massive abuse of Australia’s pluralistic democracy,” said lead Liberal Democrats Senate candidate for New South Wales, John Ruddick, in an exclusive interview with Rebel News.
What’s in a name? Political power, apparently.
Terrified by the rise of minor parties, the major parties recently joined forces to pass a piece of legislation titled Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021 – which has now been upheld. After losing two previous challenges against the Liberal Democrats, the new law allowed the Liberal Party to seek a de-registration of the Liberal Democrats because both parties share the word ‘Liberal’.
The intention of both the Bill and the Act it was amending was to ensure that voters were not deceived, confused, or tricked into voting for parties based upon misleading party names.
For example, a party with the word ‘conservative’ in the title would have to have conservative policies to match. Also, if two parties are similarly named, it would have to be determined if the newer party’s name was too easily confused with the existing party.
In the case of the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats, there is little evidence to suggest that voters have been confused by the party names. Instead, it has been suggested that the motivation of the Liberal Party has more to do with the significant threat posed by a swell in support for the Liberal Democrats.
“That is their primary concern [that the minor parties have become a competitive force]. They [the Liberal Party] have twice previously, over ten years ago, tried to get the Liberal Democrats to change our name and they lost. That’s why they had to pass the legislation,” said John Ruddick.
“It was passed two weeks after Campbell Newman [the former Liberal Queensland Premier] defected from the Liberal Party to the Liberal Democrats. They did this – and that was in the middle of a massive lockdown in this country – they did that because they were trying to snuff out a competitor – which is not very ‘liberal’. They rammed it through. The entire cross-bench was against it. The Greens were against it. Jacqui Lambie was against it. The Xenophon people [Centre Alliance] were against it. Pauline Hanson was against it. But the two majors colluded to snuff out minor parties.”
Allowing parties to own generic words is somewhat of a disaster for Australian politics, with multiple parties sharing common words.
‘The law is effectively giving the Liberal Party a trademark over the word liberal but no legal system in the world recognises political trademarks. It also states this de facto trademark law does not apply to a political party if it has a parliamentary representative. How is that fair? In a pluralistic democracy the state should shun any appearance of legislative favours to parliamentary parties over other parties,’ wrote Ruddick in a Spectator piece last year.
“But yes, today’s decision means there will be no more Democratic Labour Party, which is an institution in Australia’s political history. I think there’s three socialist parties in this country. There’s only going to be allowed to be one of them.”
The Democratic Labour Party, founded in 1955 as an anti-communist offshoot of the Labor Party, has lost its party registration after falling prey to a different portion of the same piece of legislation that dramatically increased the minimum requirement for party members to 1,500 in another move that was seen as petty and anti-democratic against minor parties. The Democratic Labour Party’s original name – Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) was a form of political protest no longer allowed under the new rules.
For the Liberal Democrats, losing the rights to their name right before the expected federal election in May is not ideal, but according to John Ruddick, the party had been making preparations in the event of a loss.
“We don’t know what the judgment is, we don’t know what the vote was, but we do know that we lost. What that means is for the next several generations of Australia, we are only going to be able to have one party that owns the name in that party.”
“The Liberal Democrats are well-positioned to overcome this situation. We knew that there was a reasonable chance that this was coming. We are now looking at our options in terms of what our name will be for the coming federal election.”
Ruddick also confirmed that the Liberal Party were awarded costs. “I think in most High Court cases, the losing party is awarded costs. Now, it is up to the Attorney-General if they want to pursue that.”
“We’ve been preparing for this. We are considering our options.”
Those options appear to involve changing the party name to Liberty and Democracy Party after the ABC reported that the Australian Electoral Commission had received an application for a ‘name change’ on February 14.
The clever new title, if confirmed, will allow the Liberal Democrats to keep their well known abbreviation - ‘The Lib Dems’.
John Ruddick thanked his legal team for the long struggle against the Liberal Party.