Federal election 2016: Labor’s Pat O’Neill to remove military-themed billboards

Labor candidate for Brisbane Pat O’Neill will remove billboards depicting him in his army uniform. Photo: Supplied Labor candidate Pat O’Neill’s billboard, on St Paul’s Terrace, will be removed along by Saturday night. Photo: Bradley Kanaris

Brisbane’s Labor candidate will remove billboards depicting him in his army uniform following a directive from the Australian Defence Force to cease and desist.

But the candidate, Pat O’Neill, a former army major, said the rules surrounding the use of such images needed to be reviewed and he had a lot of sympathy for West Australian Liberal MP Andrew Hastie, who was sacked from the Standby Reserve for failing to comply with a similar request.

“I served with Andrew in Darwin and we’ve known each other for about a decade and even though our politics haven’t always been the same, I’ve always got on well with Andrew and I’ve got a lot of time and respect for him,” Mr O’Neill told Fairfax Media.

“I think it’s sad to see someone who’s dedicated the bulk of their working life to service in the army going through what he’s gone through.

“I had a conversation with Andrew and I let him know he’s got my support as a former colleague and a mate, but I want to focus on the issues that will affect the people in the electorate of Brisbane, and those are education funding, health funding and capacity building.”

Mr Hastie, who has been a parliamentarian since September last year following a byelection brought on by the death of the previous member, has refused to airbrush his military history from his campaign.

“I had to decide whose authority I answered to,” he told Perth radio 6PR on Thursday.

“After reviewing the constitution, I came down on the position it was the people of Canning.

“As a federal parliamentarian, I don’t take orders from the military.”

Mr O’Neill, who would remain a member of the Standby Reserve, said the policy needed to be looked at after the election as it had caused significant concerns for people who had dedicated their lives to service.

He said some clarity going forward “wouldn’t go astray”.

“On the same day news came out that Andrew had been removed from the standby reserve, Malcolm Turnbull was sitting on a naval helicopter,” Mr O’Neill said.

“I think we should celebrate people like Andrew Hastie’s service and what they’ve done and I think the Parliament should represent a broad spectrum of people from the community.

“And I think that’s what people like myself and Andrew can do for the Parliament.”

But for now, Mr O’Neill said he would comply with the ADF’s request and the three billboards in the electorate would be removed by Saturday night.

“I’ve spoken with Defence and a number of people about the issue and it was never the intent to cause any offence to anyone with the billboards,” he said.

“It was to tell a story about who I am, and who I am is someone who spent the past 18 years in the army – my entire life since I left school – but I didn’t leave that 18-year career to get caught up talking about billboards.

“I left that career to do some good and I left because I think this election’s extremely important and will shape the future, so rather than cause any more distractions from the important issues, we’re going to comply with the directives from Defence.”

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