Court orders ‘green’ signs in Higgins to be taken down; AEC says Monique Ryan’s signs may breach electoral laws

“Green” signs outside polling booths in the hotly contested seat of Higgins in Melbourne’s inner south-east will be pulled down on Saturday under a Federal Court order.

In another closely watched seat, Kooyong, independent candidate Monique Ryan has been forced to amend Chinese-language voting cards and signs after the Australian Electoral Commission said they breached Commonwealth laws.

Labor is seeking an injunction over “Put Labor Last” signs appearing in Higgins, designed to look like they were placed by the Greens but allegedly from the Liberal Party.

The Liberal Party is in a tight two-way race in Kooyong between Ryan and federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, while in Higgins the Liberal’s Katie Allen is facing a stiff challenge from the Greens and Labor.

The Labor Party went to the Federal Court on Saturday afternoon seeking an injunction over signs it alleged were put up by Allen’s campaign team.

It argued the green-coloured signs, which instructed voters to “put Labor last” behind the Liberal Party on ballot papers, were designed to look like Greens Party signage.

The Federal Court ruled in Labor’s favour and ordered the signs be taken down. Justice Mark Moshinsky gave Labor’s lawyers at Holding Redlich permission to remove the signs.

Higgins is expected to be one of the tightest Liberal-Labor contests in Victoria, with the Greens also an outside chance of picking up the seat. Allen holds Higgins by just 2.6 per cent.

“If Katie Allen misleads enough Greens voters into thinking the Australian Greens are asking Greens voters to put Labor last, then Katie Allen might just scrap enough votes together to maintain her seat,” Labor said in a statement.

Labor alleged that, on Friday afternoon, Allen’s campaign team installed signs at polling booths in the once-safe Liberal seat, which takes in suburbs such as Armadale, Glen Iris, Malvern, South Yarra and Toorak.

Labor said in a statement that the signs were “electoral fraud in breach of Commonwealth electoral law”.

The signs were seen with material for Liberal Katie Allen.

A Liberal Party spokesman said the signs had not been authorised by the party and that the party was unaware of its origin. It declined to comment following the Federal Court decision.

“[The Victorian Liberals] hid behind a dodgy authorisation because they knew it was wrong,” a spokesman for the Labor Party said.

Labor said that Allen’s campaigners, including “one observed wearing a blue Liberal raincoat, installed corflutes (signs) impersonating the Australian Greens, calling on voters to put Labor last”.

At a polling place in Carnegie the signs appeared with other Greens material.Credit:Katina Curtis

Labor said it had asked the Australian Electoral Commission to remove the signs but that it had declined to immediately remove the material. The party then filed an urgent injunction in the Federal Court.

Meanwhile, the AEC wrote to Ryan’s campaign on Saturday afternoon, after receiving a complaint from the Liberals, saying their Chinese-language election material may be in breach of rules because they were authorised solely in English.

“Our understanding is that rectifications are being put in place to have the full, appropriate authorisation statement on the products,” Ryan’s campaign said in a statement.

“It is our understanding that an injunction has been sought regarding this signage … Given an injunction has been sought we will await the court finding.”

A Ryan campaign spokesman said the cards were in fact properly authorised in Chinese. Ryan has placed new stickers on the bottom of her signs authorising them in Chinese.

“All Chinese election campaign material used by Dr Ryan’s campaign, including how-to-vote cards, are properly authorised in the correct languages,” the campaign said in a statement.

“Just to repeat, the Liberal Party claim is a false allegation.”

Polling booth signage was controversial at the last election in the Melbourne seats of Chisholm and Kooyong, where the Liberal Party produced signs at booths in those electorates in Mandarin in the same colours as AEC signage.

Liberal Party signage outside a polling booth in the Melbourne seat of Chisholm.Credit:Luke Hilakari

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