Candidates wearing ADF uniform in advertising devoid of context breaches the non-partisanship convention. Billboard and poster advertising in particular is liable to be misinterpreted as the ADF supporting that candidate. However, similar pictures in leaflets and social media telling the candidate's life story are not a breach if part of that wider context. Our defence force must always be neutral politically in both fact and perception. The obligation to support this non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian - whether in the ADF or not.
Letter to The West Australian
Thursday 09 June 2016
(published Friday, 10 June 2016)
Andrew Hastie seems to miss the point about election candidates wearing ADF uniform in electoral billboards and posters
Since the English civil wars, nearly 400 years of Westminster system constitutional evolution has entrenched the “removal of the gun” from our politics.
A large part of this is about the ADF being apolitical institutionally and professionally.
But the reciprocal part of this non-partisan convention, across civil society, includes “removing politics from the gun”.
Recent examples, from both sides of politics, where election billboards and posters feature candidates wearing their former ADF uniform unequivocally contravene the convention.
What defenders of such advertising ignore is that it is the high visibility, without any context, of billboard and poster advertising that is particularly liable to be easily misconstrued as the ADF somehow endorsing that candidate or their political stance.
Similar photos in an election leaflet or on social media are not such a breach if contextually part of a candidate’s wider life story (and not on the cover).
Given the convention breaches in this election, the only solution now is to regulate the wearing of defence force uniforms in any form of election material by amending the Electoral Act (which already prohibits other forms of potentially misleading electoral advertising).
[Detailed ADA comment on abuses of the non-partisanship convention by both major parties may be found here. The ADA has also raised this issue with all the candidates and parties concerned.]