Our party was named and launched in early 2001 by John Humphreys. There were several reasons for the name, but the most important is simply that our party is the true standard-bearer for the philosophy of “liberal democracy”, and so the name gives a quick and accurate reflection of our political beliefs.
Despite occasional accusations to the contrary, our name was not inspired by the deceptively named Liberal Party (sic), and we reject any association with their stale brand of mainstream populism. If anything, our name was more inspired by the Australian Democrats. Back in the 20th century the Democrats were somewhat liberal, but by 2001 they had evolved into just another left-wing party. We wanted to present ourselves as a more genuinely liberal minor party, and so the name “Liberal Democrats” made extra sense for that moment in history. A final (less important) reason was simply that we wanted to pick a name that sounded professional, serious, and sensible.
Over the last 20 years the Liberal Party has made several complaints about our name. Back in 2001 they objected to our original registration in the ACT. In response we argued that words like “liberal” and “democratic” (as well as “socialist” and “conservative”) were generic political terms with a long philosophical history, and they should never be owned by any one party. We won that case. In 2007 the Liberals objected again when we applied for federal registration. Unfortunately, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) warned that they would ignore the precedent and refuse our registration unless we changed our name. With the 2007 federal election imminent, we briefly changed name to the “Liberty and Democracy Party” as a stopgap measure for that election only. Shortly after the election we built on our earlier 2001 arguments and applied to get our original name back. Once again, we won the case. Australia and the rest of the democratic world has a long history of multiple parties using generic political terms, including three currently registered socialist parties, two registered Christian parties, and the Democratic Labour Party having existed in Australia for over 60 years.
Having now existed in Australian politics for over 20 years, we thought the Liberal Party had moved on from their irrational fatwa against our name. Then something changed. In mid-2021 we started to build political momentum, with the impressive performances of MLCs David Limbrick and Tim Quilty in Victoria being complemented by new high-profile recruits such as Campbell Newman, John Ruddick, and Ross Cameron. Suddenly the Liberal Party decided to rush through new and unprecedented legislation that would give old parties a monopoly on generic political terms. The timing was very suspicious.
Sadly but predictably, the Liberal Party has immediately taken advantage of their own new laws to renew their attack on the Liberal Democrats. In November 2021 they complained to the AEC, who subsequently told us to change our name or be deregistered. It is unfortunate that the Liberal government is wasting time attacking minor parties instead of focusing on the issues that really matter, like defending individual choice and promoting a stronger economy.
We are fighting back with a High Court challenge against the law, arguing that the new restrictions are an unnecessary and inappropriate restriction on our implied constitutional right to freedom of political speech. The case is set to be heard on the 15th of February 2022. We believe we have a strong chance of success at the High Court and will continue to campaign as the Liberal Democrats, and hopefully win balance of power in parliament. In the unlikely event that we lose the High Court case, we will NOT be deregistered. The worst-case scenario is that we change our name, and our campaign will continue.