Australia

Liberal party faces legal challenge over Chinese language election signs

Independent Oliver Yates wants to take the Liberal Party to court. Source: Supplied

An independent candidate who challenged Treasurer Josh Frydenberg at the recent federal election is taking the Liberal party to court over Chinese-language signs.

Political advertising standards will be put to the test in a looming legal battle between the Liberal Party and independent candidate Oliver Yates.  

Mr Yates, who lost to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong, has launched a High Court challenge over controversial signage in the Victorian seat of Kooyong. 

He is set to lodge the paperwork against the Liberal Party over Chinese-language signs used on election day in the Court of Disputed Returns by the 31 July deadline.

 

Using the Australian Electoral Commission's signature purple and white, the signs instructed Chinese voters in Mandarin to put a number 1 next to the Liberal candidate to cast a valid ballot paper. 

The signs carried a small-print Liberal Party authorisation note.

"They were designed to influence and designed to be misleading and deceptive," Mr Yates told SBS News.

The signs were also used at polling booths in the nearby electorate of Chisholm which has a sizeable number of voters with Chinese heritage and was narrowly won by Liberal Gladys Liu.

While the Labor party was considering launching a legal challenge over the signs, the party is yet to confirm if they'll go ahead. 

Mr Yates was not surprised that it would likely take an independent to challenge political advertising standards as the major parties had taken advantage of weak electoral laws. 

As a result of a precedent set in a previous High Court case, it's only illegal to provide misleading information about how to vote.

There is no minimum standard of truth in advertising meaning information about policy and opposing candidates does not need to be factual. 

The AEC ruled that the signs did not breach electoral laws because they contained the necessary authorisation and they could not stop others from using the colour purple.

But Mr Yates said that did not address the key complaint and if unchallenged would have terrible consequences for democracy. 

"It's just carte blanche to just do whatever you want. The parties believe they can say whatever they want," he said.

"Someone has got to draw a line here, enough is enough."

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