This is the story of how the two major parties in Australia, finally merged into a one-party State.

 

It all started when the Liberal Party of Australia (the old liberals) decided to challenge the name of our party – The New Liberals. They claimed that we should not be registered with the Australian Electoral Commission (the AEC) because our name on the ballot paper would cause confusion amongst voters. After some vigorous litigation they lost that claim. And we were registered.

The AEC said, as it had done with similar challenges to Liberals for Forests and Liberal Democrats, that the Australian voting public were not as stupid as the old liberals claimed, and would not be so easily confused.

In particular the idea that one could be confused between Liberals and New Liberals was about as silly as saying that a person who wanted to travel to York might travel to New York by mistake. The AEC also relied on the decisions of three Federal Court Judges in Woollard’s Case who said, that a party like the old Liberals cannot take a word of generic political usage like “liberal”, put it in a box and exercise property rights over it. The judges said that this would be profoundly undemocratic.

To counter this decision the old Liberals recently introduced a piece of legislation (Electoral Legislation Amendment (Party Registration Integrity) Bill 2021) designed to overcome the decision of the AEC in our case, and at the same time to wipe out 30 or 40 minor or emerging parties. The legislation had two parts which would both operate retrospectively. The first was the requirement that a registered party, in order to maintain its registration, needed to increase its membership from at least 500 to at least 1500 members.

Most don’t understand that very few people join political parties in this country – even the old Liberals have only 15,000 members after all these years. So for a new or emerging party to suddenly have to find an additional 1000 members (and they were only allowed three months to do so) was tantamount to simply ordering its deregistration.

 

 

In our own case we were fortunate enough to have already acquired a significant general following, even though we still only had less than 800 members. I tweeted an explanation of the situation and asked anyone who had been thinking of joining to please join.

To my utter amazement 1400 people joined in less than 48 hours. So this part of the legislation was not going to be an impediment to us, although many fine parties, like the Federal ICAC Now Party and the Indigenous Party would simply be scrubbed from the register and would be unable to run candidates at all.

 


The other part to the legislation was a provision aimed more specifically at us and designed to overcome the old Liberals’ loss in the AEC. It said simply that if two parties had even one word in common in their names, or even a derivative of that word, the party which was registered first could simply demand that the AEC deregister the party registered later in time. The AEC would have no discretion in that. As I said this legislation was retrospective and so would apply to us.

The crossbench in the House of Representatives and the Senate quickly said that they would oppose this. So naturally we were hopeful that Labor would also oppose it, and it would be defeated in the Senate. We were confident that Labor would support our cause (and incidentally the cause of all the minor parties that were going to be deregistered), because we had already unilaterally offered not to run in Labor held seats in the upcoming federal election.

 

A meeting was arranged between Labor frontbencher Tony Burke and myself. I not only reminded Burke that we were only going to stand in Liberal held seats, which obviously would be to their advantage, but I also stressed the immorality of legislation which was going to be a direct attack on the democratic process, both because it would result in the elimination of 30 to 40 minor parties, but also because it would give the government a monopoly on the word ‘liberal’. Once the Bill went through, no party would be able to use that word ‘liberal’ ever again, even if they were a genuine liberal party like ours. And that monopoly would ironically be owned by a party which was in fact not liberal at all, but ultra-conservative.

Burke told me that Labor would be voting with the government to pass the legislation and that this had already been agreed with the old liberals by Senator Don Farrell acting on behalf of the Labor Party

I quickly realised that pleas to morality and democracy were not going to work, and that I needed something more tangible to offer Labor to induce them to vote against the Bill. So I disclosed something to Burke that only my National Executive and I knew. It was that we had been in discussion with three moderate disaffected members of the old liberals’ parliamentary party, who were interested in leaving the old Liberals’ and sitting on the cross-bench as The New Liberals’ first parliamentary members.

I pointed out to Burke that if Labor were to oppose the deregistration legislation, he could count on these three new members of our party to vote with his Labor to defeat the government on the floor of the house. In effect I was offering Burke the opportunity for the Labor Party to take government the next day, so to speak.

Again Burke refused, and reiterated that it was a done deal. In other words, he was telling me that Labor would rather preserve the duopoly then take government in their own right. It was of course at that moment I realised definitively that we had become a one-party State.

Shortly after that Burke leaked the information about the defection of the three disaffected members of the old Liberals to a colleague and Labor operative Peter Wicks, who publishes Wixxyleaks. Wicks immediately published the information on his website. He denied that the information had come to him from Burke. However given that the only people, apart from Burke, who knew what was happening were our National Executive and the three members of the old Liberals, it had to be Burke. Obviously, it would be very much against the interests of the rest of us to leak information which would destroy the arrangement we were trying to enter into.

I now understood the lengths that the one-party State would go to, in order to preserve itself.


Despite vociferous condemnation from the Greens and other independents the legislation passed through both houses in less than 24 hours.

We quickly moved to change our name on the AEC register to TNL, to avoid been deregistered. We felt that legally the only restriction on the use of ‘The New Liberals’ would be in the ballot box. But there was nothing to prevent us using it in every other circumstance. So we will now be known to the world as “TNL (The New Liberals)” and we are hopeful that between now and the election the electorate will come to understand that TNL stands for The New Liberals, and that when they see those initials on the ballot paper they will understand and will vote accordingly.

In the meantime, all the publicity that has been handed to us by the attacks from the old Liberals and by the profoundly immoral conduct of the Labor Party, has taken us from a minor party to a third or fourth force in Australian politics. My tweets are now reaching as many as a million people on Twitter, we have received significant donations from supporters and our recognition and approval as a party of moral courage, in contradistinction to our one-party rulers, has imprinted itself on the minds of the citizens.

Whilst it remains a stain on our democratic process that 30-40 minor parties have been prohibited from participating in the democratic process, we will reverse that when in government. And we will entrench in our proposed Bill of Rights, one more clause – that no political party will ever again have the right to monopolise parts of the English language and seek, by legislation, to eliminate its legitimate political opponents.

 

Victor Kline
Leader, TNL (The New Liberals)
+61 4 19 686 783
victorkline@thenewliberals.net.au

27 August 2021

 

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