Medicare logo crackdown: First grandfather, now Labor threatened over use of logo

Lawyers for the Labor Party have accused the Coalition of "authoritarian behaviour" after the Turnbull government doubled down on its legal threats to a retiree and demanded the ALP also stop using the Medicare logo in its campaigning.

In a letter sent to the Australian Government Solicitor on Tuesday, law firm Maurice Blackburn, representing the ALP, rejected government demands to amend the party's "save Medicare" website.

Fairfax Media revealed last week that the government had threatened a Sydney grandfather, Mark Rogers, to close down his little-visited website that campaigns against cuts to Medicare, accusing him of unauthorised use of the healthcare system's green and yellow logo.

Facing similar demands, the ALP has threatened to counter-sue and also raised question marks over why a newspaper was leaked a legal letter from the Solicitor before it had even been received by ALP general-secretary Noah Carroll.

In his letter, Labor lawyer Jacob Varghese accused the Solicitor of failing to outline the legal basis for the government's demands around the Medicare brand and characterised the dispute as one with ramifications for freedom of political communication.

"The demands are onerous and would substantially burden and impede our client's capacity to communicate with electors about a matter of serious public importance," he wrote.

"In addition, our client is deeply committed to the democratic institutions established by the Constitution and, subject to exceptional circumstances, objects to any government threatening litigation in relation to a political campaign by its political opposition. Such acts of intimidation are anathema to our system of democratically elected representative government.

"If our client was to accede to your demands lightly it would be implicitly condoning, or at least rewarding, this authoritarian behaviour."

Maurice Blackburn has demanded detail from the government on how it holds copyright over the decades-old Medicare logo and has threatened to have any proceedings struck out as an "abuse of process".

Mr Varghese has also requested records of communication between the Australian Government Solicitor, the Department of Human Services, any government ministers and journalists at The Australian newspaper.

"We note, with concern, that your letter was sent only by email and to an email address which has not been used by our client for over three years," Mr Varghese wrote.

"Compounding this concern is the fact that your letter found its way to The Australian newspaper before it was received by our client.

"The fact of the leak threatens to undermine public confidence in the integrity and independence of your office and the Australian Public Service. It is also needless to say that the leaking of this letter by either AGS or DHS staff is contrary to your client's model litigant obligations to act honestly and fairly. Please advise us immediately of the steps you have taken to investigate this leak."

On Thursday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised to review legal advice that led to Mr Rogers being threatened with court.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: "Malcolm Turnbull is lashing out at anyone wanting to save Medicare. From his election night tantrum to bullying a grandfather with a website, it's clear Mr Turnbull hasn't learnt a single lesson about Medicare.'

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The story Medicare logo crackdown: First grandfather, now Labor threatened over use of logo first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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