Federal election 2016: Defence could ask for law against wearing uniforms in election campaign material

Canning MP Andrew Hastie says he won’t remove photos of himself in uniform from his federal election campaign material. Photo: Nathan HondrosAndrew Hastie sacked by Army over campaign photosElection 2016: news, analysis and videoYourVote: where you fit with the parties
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The Australian Defence Force is seriously considering asking the next government to change the law to prohibit election campaign material featuring military uniforms, Fairfax Media understands.

In the wake of the controversy over former SAS officer turned Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, it is understood ADF brass are deeply concerned that photos of candidates in uniform risk politicising the military.

To ensure such stoushes are not repeated, Defence may seek a change to the Electoral Act as the only way to enforce its policy of keeping military uniforms out of campaign material. Once a former member is out of the force, it has no power to compel them.

Mr Hastie, the member for the WA seat of Canning, was sacked by the Army reserves for refusing to take down billboards that showed him in his uniform. Mr Hastie hit back, telling The West Australian that former army chief, retired Lieutenant-General David Morrison, had “politicised the ADF long before I ever put my mug on a billboard”. He added that the now Australian of the Year had “hastened my exit from the Army into politics”.

The issue has gone beyond Mr Hastie, with Labor candidate Pat O’Neill also facing dismissal from the reserves for failing to meet his promise to take down similar billboards in the seat of Brisbane where is he campaigning.

“Mr O’Neill has not removed the billboard signage and Defence is considering further administrative action,” a Defence spokesperson said.

Neither Mr O’Neill nor the Labor campaign staff had responded by deadline to questions on whether the billboards would be taken down.

Defence Minister Marise Payne expressed support for Mr Hastie’s candidacy but side-stepped the issue of his sacking from the standby reserve.

“Mr Hastie has made his decision to retain his campaign material and Defence has made a decision based on their policy,” she said.

Neil James, executive director of the Australia Defence Association, said the law would have to be changed to protect “the segregation of our defence force from party politics”.

“If the non-partisanship convention continues to be abused in this manner, the wearing of a defence force uniform in any election material will need to be regulated by the Electoral Act — as occurs with other aspects of potentially misleading electoral advertising,” Mr James said.

“If political parties can no longer be trusted to respect the need for ADF political neutrality by reciprocating the non-partisanship convention, statutory prohibition becomes the only solution.”

Mr James said photographs of political candidates in their uniforms if they had served in the ADF were acceptable if they were in a broader context, such as inside a pamphlet with other photos. But billboards and posters could suggest the military endorsed the party being promoted, he said.

Labor candidate in Eden Monaro, Mike Kelly, has used images of himself in pamphlets but on the inside pages, not on billboards or posters.

Mr Kelly, a former defence materiel minister, said: “I have always complied with ADF requests and instructions in relation to campaign activities … It is my understanding that using photos of myself with no other ADF members in low-key material amongst a mix of photos is perfectly acceptable.”

He said as a member of the standby reserve, he would comply with any Defence instructions.

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