Loophole allows Liberal Democrats to Retain their Party Name

(7:15pm – this post has been updated to clarify some points of law.)

Last year Labor and the Coalition combined to pass legislation that prevented parties from having registered names that were too similar to those of already registered parties.

It was clear the target of the legislation was the Liberal Democratic Party. Last November, after applications by the Liberal and Labor Parties, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) gave notice that the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Labour Party would be de-registered if they did not change their names.

The full 3-person Australian Electoral Commission confirmed the original de-registration notice from November on 9 February., so the Liberal Democrats were de-registered under their existing name.

On 9 March the High Court upheld the new law by which the party had been de-registered. It looked like game, set and match for the Liberal Democrats.

But no, the Liberal Democrats are free to contest the 2022 election under the name Liberal Democrats despite the law and despite the High Court.

It all comes down to a clever loophole in the law that someone in the party spotted.

In response to the AEC’s warning to change its name or face de-registration, the Liberal Democrats lodged a name change application on 18 December.

The party applied to revert to the name it had originally been registered under ahead of the 2007 election, the Liberty and Democracy Party, Liberty Democrats as the registered abbreviation.

The process of changing the party name saw the AEC withdraw its decision to de-register given the party had applied to change its name. (Update – the notice wasn’t withdrawn. The lodging of the name change met the requirements of stopping the de-registration process.)

The validity of the de-registration law was confirmed by the High Court on 9 March.

Objections to the party’s new name closed on 15 March with the party having until 22 March to respond to the objections.

The party’s response to the objections was to withdrew its name change application on 22 March.

With no valid de-registration against the party, and having withdrawn its name change application, the party returned to its former name, the Liberal Democratic Party, registered abbreviation Liberal Democrats.

On 1 April, and no this is not an April Fool’s joke, the AEC was forced to lodge another notice to de-register the party for having a name too similar to the Liberal Party of Australia.

There is now three months one month for the Liberal Democrats to appeal against the notice.

But it is now too close to the election to de-register the party.

Writs will be issued for an election in the next fortnight. Once writs are issued, the party register is frozen, and the Liberal Democrats are registered to contest the election.

With one bound, the Liberal Democrats, a party keen on clearing away useless red tape, has used useless red tape to retain its party name.

There will be some very annoyed people in the Liberal Party over this outcome.

10 thoughts on “Loophole allows Liberal Democrats to Retain their Party Name”

  1. Close, but two small corrections.

    The LibDems were not deregistered under the existing name in February. There was a notice in November 2021 that the LibDems had to put in a name change application or face deregistration. That notice was upheld in February. However, since a name-change application was submitted in time, the AEC didn’t initiated the deregistration process. Until now.

    Also, the deregistration process only gives the party one month to respond to the AEC intention to deregister. Though you are right that the process will not be finished before the writs are issued.

    COMMENT: Thanks John. The post was done in a hurry without all the fine points of the Act being available. I’ve amended the post where necessary.

    1. They have been deregistered what happens now ?

      COMMENT: The de-registration is now complete. The quirk of law utilised to remain registered for the Federal election no longer applies an as option.

  2. In theory, could they pull the same move again in three months? Or can the AEC simply not withdraw the deregistration notice until the renaming is complete?

    COMMENT: That’s an issue for the future. The point is Liberal Democrats is a valid registered party for the election.

  3. In response to @David. I don’t think they can pull the same stunt again. I think the process has now advanced beyond the point where they can do a name change. They lodged a name change in response to a notice under section 134A(1)(e). That name change has now been formally refused – because they withdrew it.

    So the AEC has now moved to the actual deregistration step under section 137, which has its own one-month notice period. While the election will intervene to stop any action to actually deregister, the process will continue after the election and I can’t see that promising to change their name would stop deregistration. They missed that boat. They’d now need to find a flaw in the AEC’s processes to date.

    So the likely result is that they WILL be deregistered after the election. Assuming they have enough members, they’ll still be able to re-register after that, but it will have to be with a complying name, because the current name would be rejected. But by going through the charade of a name change, they still managed to get one more election under the old name.

  4. So what is the story with the DLP? Have they also undertaken shenanigans or quietly folded their tents?

    COMMMENT: They were de-registered for not having enough members.

    1. The DLP submitted 1650 members as requested by the AEC but was found to have too many incorrect entries to satisfy the 1500 member rule. Concurrently, the DLP challenged the new laws at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal but was unsuccessful on the same grounds as the LibDems.

      The DLP will re-register after the election under a different name.

  5. Does this not constitute an act of electoral fraud by the Liberal Democrats?

    COMMENT: No. The law has been applied and found wanting.

  6. Why, oh why are they so cruel?

    The cartel of self interest has tried 3 times to nobble this party who have done nothing more than be honest about what they believe in as to a political philosophy and the name/s for it… a democratic liberal movement doomed by the scaredy cats whom claim the mole hill of self righteous self interest and no one else can play with their ball.
    Sad, really sad.

    ps: A “loop hole” is a descriptor for those who find its’ essence, effect and use not to their liking I believe. Mum used to call them spoiled sports.

  7. The legislation was not only geared at the Liberal Democrats and the DLP. In fact, I think it is extremely unlikely to be geared towards them. Afterall, the Liberal Democrats preferences favour the LNP so they don’t care.

    It was geared to The New Liberals now known as TNL. We are the only true small “l” liberal party in Australia. The Liberal Party of Australia is no longer a liberal party, but is a conservative one.

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