Liberal Democrats face identity crisis over forced name change

Liberal Democrats face identity crisis over forced name change


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Key points

  • The Liberal Democrats have been forced to change the name of  their political party.
  • Party members will vote for their preferred name next month. 
  • The two leading options are to name it the Libertarians Party or the Liberty and Democracy Party.
  • The party presently has only one sitting MP across Australia – a Victorian state MP – but is hoping a preference count later this week will produce an additional MP; in the NSW parliament.

The Liberal Democrats are facing an identity crisis over which new name to adopt as part of a forced rebrand triggered by the Morrison government.

The party – which currently has just one sitting MP nationwide – last year lost a High Court bid to keep its name registered federally after two decades of objections from the Liberal Party, which has long accused the minor party of harvesting votes from people mistaking them for the Coalition.

Liberal Democrat MP for Victoria David Limbrick, left, and NSW candidate John Ruddick, who remains hopeful of gaining a seat in his state parliament.Credit: The Age and Sydney Morning Herald

The deregistration was the reason the Liberal Democrats did not run a candidate at the recent Aston byelection in Victoria and instead chose to back an independent with links to the party.

However, with that byelection and the NSW state election out of the way, the party’s federal executive believes now is the time to consider the name change.

So far, the top two contenders are the Libertarians Party and the Liberty and Democracy Party, or variations of those names.

Sitting Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick, a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, supports the first option – as does NSW candidate John Ruddick, who is expected to pick up an upper house seat when preferences are distributed on Thursday.

The second option, a name candidates ran under at the 2007 federal election, is backed by the party’s old guard, namely former senator David Leyonhjelm. The Liberal Democrats are not currently represented in the Senate, but do have two local government representatives in Victoria.

Neither option has the official backing of party founder Dr John Humphries.

“There are a few good options being considered, but I don’t have a strong preference at this point,” he said when contacted by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

In a statement, Limbrick said: “Our party needs to be unapologetic and unafraid of defending our philosophy. It follows that if we are to change the name of our party, we should change it to something that unambiguously and proudly signals our beliefs. We are libertarians.”

This sentiment was backed by Ruddick, who said the name Libertarian Party would send a strong message to potential voters.

Asked to weigh in on the debate, Leyonhjelm said: “My preference would be the Liberty and Democracy Party.”

While state branches are under no legal obligation to change their names, it’s expected they will follow suit in the weeks or months after the national decision for consistency.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said it could be risky for minor political parties to change their names. He said it was too soon to say whether a name change would help the Liberal Democrats, but said it could “remove the confusion that has helped the party in the past”.

“In 2013 they got 9.3 per cent of the vote,” he said. “They got column A on the ballot paper [to the left of the Liberals]. Everything points to confusion. It’s one of the reasons why the Liberals brought in logos … and went to the trouble of changing the rules to deregister the Liberal Democrats.”

Liberal Democrats members will be asked to vote for their preferred option at an upcoming annual general meeting to be held in Melbourne on May 13.

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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