Why the Liberal Party is scrambling to block the progressive New Liberals

The Liberal Party says the name of the progressive New Liberals party would make voters mistakenly believe they’re related.

Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia Andrew Hirst speaks at the 61st Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia at the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra, Saturday, October 19, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia Andrew Hirst. Source: AAP

There was New Coke, then the New Kids on the Block, and now the New Liberals are causing a stir in Australia. 

But the New Liberals - a recent entrant on Australia's political scene - are facing fierce opposition from a much older, established opponent. 

The Liberal Party, established in 1944, is stridently objecting to the registration of the New Liberals - a recently-formed political party - on the basis their name could create "substantial" voter confusion at the ballot box. 

The Liberal Party has written to the Australian Electoral Commission asking it to not register the minor party, saying the inclusion of the word “new” suggests the New Liberals is a rebranding or a division of the Liberal Party.

“The application to register the New Liberals is a cynical attempt to ‘piggyback’ on the name Liberal Party and its registered abbreviation,” The Liberal Party’s Federal Director Andrew Hirst, along with state directors, wrote in a letter to the AEC.

“The use of the name The New Liberals would inevitably generate substantial confusion as to both identity and connection with the Liberal Party.

“Its impact would far exceed the boundaries of impermissibility.”

To back its objection, the Liberal Party included research it commissioned by political pollsters as evidence of the confusion it said voters would experience if the registration was not refused.

Federal Director of the Liberal Party of Australia Andrew Hirst attends the 61st Federal Council of the Liberal Party of Australia at the Hyatt Hotel   in Canberra, Friday, October 18, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
The Liberal Party’s Federal Director Andrew Hirst has written a letter to the AEC. Source: AAP

The research polled 2000 voters in early March about their level of confusion between the two party names, and found 66 per cent of people who were asked who the New Liberals were, selected an option that showed some form of connection to the Liberal Party.

Twenty three per cent thought the minor party was a derivative of the major one; 30 per cent felt the New Liberals were a separate party with a connection to the Liberals, while five per cent considered it a localised brand and only eight per cent thought they were a separate party.

“A clear majority of voters (67 per cent) agreed that if candidates from both the New Liberals and the Liberal Party were to stand in their electorate, they would feel confused about who to preference above the other,” the letter reads.

“The evidence highlights why the registration of the new party would imperil the integrity of any election in which The New Liberals endorsed a candidate.”

Victor Kline
Victor Kline Source: Supplied

But New Liberals party leader Victor Kline said there was “absolutely no chance” of confusion between the two parties' names.

“We use the word new, and we deliberately use that word, to distinguish us from the Liberal party,” he told SBS News.

“It's a terrible analogy to use, but you can't confuse Coke with New Coke, they can't be the same thing, they can't be related.

“The reasonable voter is not going to say the Liberal Party of Australia and the New Liberals are the same thing, it's just not credible.”

He said his party’s policies were “probably the exact opposite” of the Liberal Party’s.

His party wants stronger action on climate change, and end to mandatory detention of asylum seekers, and a ban on live animal exports, among other policies.

“We are a very, very progressive party, socially and economically. And I think that puts us almost in every way at the other end of the spectrum, from the so-called Liberal Party of Australia,” Mr Kline said.

Political commentator Kevin Bonham said the Liberal Party’s objections had merit.

“It sounds like it's re-badge of the existing Liberal Party,” Mr Bonham said of the New Liberals’ name.

“The voters who have low information they might, they might just assume that it means that it really is a branch of the Liberal Party.”

He said there were different components to the party names of the Liberal Democrats and Liberals for Forests to distinguish them from the Liberal Party.

“[This is a] stronger case that has been in cases like Liberal for Forests and the Liberal Democrats and so on.”

Separately, Mr Kline has written to the AEC with concerns the Liberal Party did not lodge its objections to its name registration on time. 

4 min read
Published 16 April 2021 at 2:34pm
By Rashida Yosufzai