Liberal Democrats must change their name

By Tom Ravlic

March 28, 2022

John Ruddick
Liberal Democrat John Ruddick. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The Liberal Democrats have lost a High Court bid to have legislation that will force them to change their name declared invalid.

A majority four-three decision of the High Court decided the laws passed by the federal parliament designed to prohibit political parties using the same words in their names as others were valid.

John Ruddick, a Liberal Democrats candidate for the senate in this year’s federal election, took the action to test whether the legislation contravened parts of the constitution and the implied freedom of political communication.

Justices Jacqueline Gleeson, James Edelman, and Michelle Gordon did not find Ruddick’s arguments persuasive when it came to his argument that amendments related to the names of political parties impact the ability of people to make an informed choice at the polling booth and that it affected the ability of people in the community to talk feeling about government or political issues.

“Mr Ruddick effectively asks this Court to infer that the quality of electoral choice, or the freedom of communication on government or political matters, will be impaired due to the inability of a candidate to have, accompanying their name on the ballot paper, the name and logo of a party which includes a word used in another party’s name,” the three justices said.

“That conclusion is not self-evident. Rather, on the material before the Court, the expected conclusion would be the opposite.

“The likely effect of the narrow restrictions imposed by the 2021 Amendments is, overall, to improve the clarity, and hence the quality, of electoral choice and communication on government or political matters.”

Justice Simon Steward sided with Justices Gordon, Edelman, and Gleeson in a pithy 288-word judgement that barely fills half an A4 page, but not before being critical of the nature of aspects of the amendments that will force changes to the names of political parties.

Steward said the laws might “rightly be characterised as heavy-handed” and that giving two major political parties a monopoly on the words “liberal” and “labor” or “labour” may be “unappealing”.

He said that the court should only use its power to invalidate the work of parliament in rare circumstances and that this is not a case in which such an intervention has merit.

Ruddick took to Twitter to report the results of the special case he took to the High Court and he said the case was closed.

“The Liberal Democrats recently lost a High Court challenge. It’s now the law of the land that established parties have a monopoly on the usage of certain words,” Ruddick said.


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