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Libs labor over liberal meaning

THIS election campaign is a numbers tussle between a moderate left-of-centre Labor Party and a moderately reformist coalition of rural-based Nationals and urban and rural-based Liberals.

But behind the campaign speeches and promises are other less visible tussles between the major parties - Labor, Liberals and the Nationals - and minors like the Liberals for Forests, Christian Democratic Party, One Nation, etc.

A case in point is treatment the Liberals for Forests have copped from the Liberal Party over the word "liberals" in their name, one that's been in the English language for, well, a long time, for all to freely use, until now.

One reason these old-growth forest conscious liberals created Liberals for Forests to become challengers was that several opinion polls showed many Liberal voters backing a reversal in the Liberal /National Party Government's South-West old-growth forest felling policy.

Several Liberals for Forests founders met a Federal Liberal MP who agreed but warned they'd not bring about change in the Coalition's stand.

He added that if they moved to electorally pressure coalition MPs by fielding candidates, they'd inevitably encounter what he dubbed the "party divide", meaning Liberal voters in blue-ribbon Liberal seats would see them as lefties, so they'd get nowhere.

On that advice they opted for the Liberals for Forests' name.

Interestingly, the person who immediately kicked up most fuss over their name was Alfred Cove's embattled Minister for Fair Trading and Electoral Affairs, Doug Shave.

Before the ink had dried on their incorporation documents he'd whizzed off a letter to the Electoral Commission (WAEC), which comes under one of his portfolios, complaining about their use of the word "liberals".

"I am writing to express my concern at the prospects of a new political grouping seeking recog-nition under the title, Liberals for Forests," he wrote.

"It would appear that there is a real likelihood that many electors would think that by voting for candidates designated Liberals for Forests they would be voting for the Liberal Party in a real sense.

"This is, of course, a matter for decision by the Electoral Com-mission, but I consider it appropriate to express my concern."

Mr Shave knew if his objection prevailed, then Liberals for Forests' candidates challenging in safe Liberal seats would be denied having those three words printed on ballot papers alongside their names. State Parliament gave the WAEC that power.

Liberal MPs likely to be challenged by the Liberals for Forests preferred the new party not get that name on ballots, preferring it be replaced with the word, "independent" once the WAEC had rejected it.

Since Mr Shave's letter to the WAEC, it has claimed "the name Liberals for Forests does so nearly resemble the name and the abbreviation of the name of the Liberal Party." The words Liberal Party will, of course, be alongside Mr Shave's name on ballots.

When I quizzed the WAEC over this I was told it had a Solicitor General's legal opinion backing its refusal to recognise the Liberals for Forests' name.

When I asked to see that opinion, and that's all it is, an opinion, I was told it was confidential.

Common sense tells us, I contended, that the three-word name, Liberals for Forests and two words, Liberal Party, were vastly different so wouldn't be confusing.

Well, I now also have a legal opinion. It's signed by Frank Marris, Senior General Counsel, Australian Government Solicitor, and written for a similar tussle over federal Liberals for Forests' registration.

"My own view is that there is not the slightest possibility that the name, Liberals for Forests, so nearly resembles the name, Liberal Party of Australia, that it is likely to be confused with or mistaken for that name," Mr. Marris wrote.

"Not the slightest possibility," he said. It would be nice to read the WAEC's secret opinion to compare arguments.

But the Marris opinion won't apply in WA, so Mr Shave's Liberals for Forests' challenger and biggest worry, Dr Janet Woollard, will have alongside her name the word, "independent"; so unident-ified and amongst several other independents, with some set to direct preferences to the sometimes swift Mr Shave.

It's a pity he wasn't as fast off the mark in moving to combat finance brokers who took down so many mums and dads for millions of hard saved dollars.

This little-noticed, behind-the-scenes tussle means the Liberal Party has effectively gained proprietorial rights, through legislation its MPs backed, over a commonly used English word, for electoral gain.

A long-time mate and admirer of Mark Twain claims the great wit's best political line was: "No one's life, liberty, or property, are safe while the legislature is in session."

If Twain visited WA he'd have reason to modify this to: "No one's life, liberty, property, or language, are safe while WA's legislature is in session."

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