Australia

Independent Oliver Yates wants to take the Liberal Party to court over 'deceptive' signs

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Independent Oliver Yates is making plans to take the Liberal Party to court over controversial signs used on election day.

The federal election may be over, but for Independent Oliver Yates the battle is just beginning.

Mr Yates, who ran against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the Melbourne seat of Kooyong, is hoping to take the Liberal Party to the Court of Disputed Returns over allegedly "misleading and deceptive" signs he believes breached the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

"I stood [for election] on political integrity ... and this campaign would have to be the worst example of horrific political lies and deception," Mr Yates told SBS News.

Pictures of the controversial signs - which appeared in three Melbourne seats with large Chinese populations - went viral on social media over the weekend, with many pointing out the similarities to instructional material distributed by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).

The signs used the same purple and white colours as the AEC material and instructed voters in Mandarin that the "right way to vote" was to put a "1" next to the Liberal candidate.

The signs did not feature any Liberal Party branding with the only connection to the party appearing in a tiny authorisation by Simon Frost, acting director of the Liberal party’s Victoria division.

Independent Oliver Yates ran in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's seat of Kooyong.
Independent Oliver Yates ran in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's seat of Kooyong.
Twitter

Mr Yates said he complained to the AEC during polling day along with a number of other people, including the Labor Party and media, but was shocked to receive a response that the signs were not breaching regulations.

In a letter to Mr Yates' lawyers, provided to SBS News, the AEC said they carefully examined images of the signs but found they did not breach electoral laws because the signs "merely contained similar information that almost every candidate and registered political party included on their how to vote cards".

According to the AEC, allegations of "misleading or deceptive conduct" under the Commonwealth Electoral Act only extend to conduct that affects the process of voting, not the exercise of political judgement. 

But in a response sent to the AEC on Monday, lawyers acting on behalf of Mr Yates said the refusal of the AEC to remove the posters "jeopardised the integrity of the votes cast at affected polling booths".

The lawyers alleged that the posters were intended - and likely - to affect voters, that they were an "emphatic direction" on how to vote and that there was a very real risk the voter would believe they were being told "by the AEC that, to record a valid vote, they must vote 1 for Liberal".

"A person who is not familiar with Australian electoral processes may not be aware that the AEC would never direct the order of the vote," the letter continued, claiming the signs were directed to voters "with a higher than average likelihood of having a poor understanding of the [Australian] voting process" due to being recent migrants.

Breaching the Commonwealth Electoral Act is a criminal offence.

Mr Yates said he has lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Federal Police and on Thursday launched a crowdfunding campaign which hopes to raise $100,000 to take the matter to the court.

The Liberal Party authorisation.
The Liberal Party authorisation.
Supplied

The Court of Disputed Returns is a special jurisdiction of the High Court of Australia, which hears challenges to the validity of federal elections.

The crowdfunded money would go towards a high court deposit to commence legal action, filing fees, hearing fees, publishing and publicity fees, expert fees and accommodation and flights, Mr Yates said.

The former Kooyong candidate said any result in the court would not affect his chances of getting a seat in parliament or affect the results in Kooyong, where Mr Frydenberg went up against the Greens' Julian Burnside, but it might alter the results in the neighbouring seat of Chisholm, where the signs also appeared.

For days following the election, Chisholm was one of the closest seats in the country.

Liberal candidate Gladys Liu declared victory over Labor's Jennifer Yang on Wednesday.

The current margin of votes between the two is 1,400.

But Mr Yates said he hopes the legal action will have an even more important effect - to protect Australia's democratic process.

"There's a real question of political integrity here," he said.

"The legal action in relation to the misleading signs is an initial opportunity to raise the standard of conduct and draw people’s attention to the need for truthful advertising."

The Liberal Party has been contacted for comment.

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