What causes a new political party to get established?

The Australian Electoral Commission website (www.aec.gov.au/Parties_and_Representatives/party_registration/overview.htm) explains the rules by which a political party can register so its candidates are able to stand for federal elections with their party affiliation printed on the ballot paper. To be eligible for registration a party must have a written constitution setting out its aims and either be a parliamentary party with at least one member in the Commonwealth parliament or have at least 500 members entitled to be on the electoral roll and who ‘are not relied on by any other party’  Objections can be lodged against the registration of a party on the basis that the application does not meet the rules, is not an eligible political party or the name chosen by the party ‘should be refused by the AEC’.

The establishment of a party by mining magnate Clive Palmer presents an interesting case study in how the system works.  In November 2012 Clive Palmer, life member and generous donor of Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP) was suspended from the party after he had  made some outspoken remarks about the incumbent LNP Queensland government (www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-09/lnp-suspends-clive-palmer27s-membership/5363978). He is reported to have responded: ‘If they think by suspending me they’ll silence me, like it’s a threat, if you don’t do this we’ll chuck you out.  It won’t silence me’ (www.afr.com/p/national/palmer_lawyers_challenge_lnp_suspension_BNeuGuVceAuayWlly4zMlk). Even though Palmer subsequently received a letter from the LNP advising his suspension had been lifted, he resigned from the party and according to ninemsn news said he  ‘did not rule out a future political role, including the possibility of setting up his own party’ (www.news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2012/11/23/01/00/mining-magnate-palmer-resigns-from-lnp).

On 25 April 2013 Palmer announced he had founded the Clive Palmer United Australia Party as a ‘reformation of the original party (established in 1931 under the leadership of Joseph Lyons which evolved into the Liberal Party of Australia).  He said his party had a constitution and was open for membership with a website where people could join (www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2013/s3745534.htm).  It was reported that the party intended to stand candidates in all seats at the 14 September 2013 federal election (www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/coalition-issues-warning-over-clive-palmers-decision-to-set-up-new-party/story-fn59niix-1226629814356). The challenge for the party was to meet the criteria for registration in the next 18 days leading up to the AEC 13 May cut-off date for fully completed party registration applications for the 2013 election.

An interesting development occurred on 12 May 2013 when it was announced that federal MP Peter Slipper, a former member of the Liberal Party now sitting on the cross benches as an independent, had joined Palmer’s party but his membership was cancelled almost immediately by the party: ‘Under Clause D26 of the constitution of the party, a majority of foundation members have decided that the membership for Peter Slipper has ceased forthwith’ (AAP 12 May 2013, http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1765134/Slipper-booted-from-Palmers-UAP).  Slipper, however, said he had withdrawn his application (www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/politics-news/clive-palmers-uap-accepts-then-rejects-peter-slipper/story-fn59ngld-1226640042696). If Slipper had remained a member the party would have been able to apply for registration on the basis that it was ‘a political party with at least one member in the Parliament of the Commonwealth’ and therefore would not have to meet the requirements of having at least 500 members.

The day before the AEC registration deadline the party changed its name to the Palmer United Party (PUP) to avoid possible rejection by the Australian Electoral Commission over inclusion in the title of the words United Australia Party which could be confused with the Uniting Australia Party, an existing registered organisation.  The party, however, intended to seek registration as the United Australia Party (UAP) in Queensland for elections in that state, highlighting the separation of powers delivered by Australia’s federal system.  The Australian Electoral Commission reportedly refused to register the Palmer United Party because Palmer submitted a list of 700 members whereas the Commission would only accept a list of 550 members.  The application was then resubmitted with the acceptable 550 members (Howells, M. ‘Palmer United Party to be divided in Qld’, 14 May 2013, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-05-13/palmer-united-party-to-be-divided-in-qld/4686456).

In order to place the establishment of this new party into context, it is suggested you search the internet for information about the history and nature of Clive Palmer’s involvement with the Queensland LNP and his new party (palmerunited.com). Chapter 9 (pp.313-314) of the textbook Australian Political Institutions 10e explains the characteristics that underpin the categorization and classification of political parties.  Which of these do you think best applies to the Palmer United Party?  Give your reasons.

Gwynneth Singleton

22 May 2013


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