Cavalier dismissal of the need for political neutrality in our military and police forces needs fixing by the next government. Too many Australians have grown complacent about the institutional and professional need for our defence force, and our police services, to be politically neutral in both fact and perception. This is demonstrated by how many of our politicians, and others who should know better, who now seek to politicise the ADF or a police service for electoral expediency - thereby ignoring that the obligation to observe the non-partisanship convention is also reciprocal across civil society. Australian democracy faces potential risks when the convention is not consistently respected by every Australian, not just serving or former members of the ADF or a police service. Changes to the Electoral Act are now necessary to reinforce the non-partisanship convention.
Letter to The Australian Financial Review
Friday, 17 June 2016
(published Monday, 20 June 2016)
Fleur Anderson (“Uniform agreement on military careers, June 17) notes an important but sadly not well understood issue.
No democracy can tolerate a defence force or police services that are not politically neutral professionally and institutionally.
Australia has longstanding and reciprocal constitutional conventions governing this, but some electoral candidates are now forgetting or ignoring that the convention applies across civil society just as much as it applies to the military and police.
There is nothing wrong with electoral advertising mentioning a candidate has served in the ADF or AFP when this forms part of illustrating their wider life experience.
It is improper, however, if such references to military or police service lack such context and mislead voters into thinking the ADF or AFP endorse a candidate, party or policy.
Due to their prominence, but without context, billboards and posters of candidates wearing uniform are highly misleading and unequivocally contravene the non-partisanship convention.
It is actually scary, not just disappointing, when even parliamentarians and former ADF personnel forget such important principles of our Westminster system.
[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.]