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When ex-military politicians use the uniform to campaign

By John Hargreaves - 20 June 2016 22

Rising Sun Bdge

There was a good article in The Canberra Times from John Warhurst late last week on the use of defence uniforms as part of political campaigns. It’s worth a read.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to why the whole issue is such a big deal.

I agree with some of the commentators who have said that the depiction of people in uniforms of past employment is really just a pictorial statement of their life experience and employment. The images, however, are supposed to elicit a positive perspective of the individual as being someone active in the defence of our country.

Interesting though, that there are many in all of the parliaments in Australia who are ex-service people or members of the armed services reserves. Every now and then some pop up and use their service and an attribute to attract votes. Most don’t though.

Here in the ACT, we had Steve Pratt, a major in the Army, portrayed as a hero after being imprisoned for spying. The truth of the matter didn’t matter much but the imagery certainly helped him. The current Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Hanson, was a Lt Colonel in the Army and holder of a DSC. He has used desert images of himself in election material in elections past. Again it is the imagery.

The Libs have a habit of promoting candidates with service history but only a few of them have used their service in a campaign picture. Almost all have referred to their service in written material and so they should. It tells us a bit of how they tick.

Bill Stefaniak was a major in the Army Reserve for decades and hardly anyone knew. Bill let his other credentials sell him as a pollie.

Graham Edwards, an MP from Western Australia, was not only a Vietnam vet but a disabled one at that. Tim Fischer was another and neither of these needed to put images of themselves in uniform in campaign material.

As an amusing aside, it seems only ex-officers fall into the trap of using images. I don’t know of any corporals or sergeants who have used pics of themselves, even though I’m sure there are many of them in politics. Indeed, Harold Hird, an old colleague in the Assembly, was a sergeant medic in the Army but no one knew. Or cared.

Warhurst made a good point in saying that the media hype and ADF response has just highlighted the candidates as being ex-serving soldiers better than their posters.

What these images, and accenting this experience in campaign materials does do, though, is to reveal a leaning towards this vocation in framing views to be applied in the political arena. It can show whether a candidate is a hawk or a dove in defence matters. Sometimes it can be misleading a bit though. I know Mike Kelly has extensive active service as a Colonel but I also know of his abhorrence of war. I don’t know Andrew Hastie but I do know that generally, Special Forces operatives don’t share that abhorrence. In Nasho, I did a 10-week stint at the SAS barracks in Perth as part of training in Army administrative matters, and met some of the SAS soldiers and I can say that they were a scary lot and quite at ease in a warlike environment.

It is clear that these experiences, like all experiences in life prior to political ascension, influence the pollies. But is this unique? Is there any conflict of interest?

Some bright spark suggested recently that lawyers should be barred from politics because they are creating the laws that they will make a living from. Long bow perhaps. But lawyers’ experience, accountants’ and economists’ experience all influence their political attitudes.

I was interested recently in this aspect of prior employment, and pondered to what extent the voters judge candidates on their prior experience and the potential for that experience to influence them in a parliament.

I was having a conversation recently with a policeman friend of mine around the separation of powers doctrine and our differing views on whether police forces were part of the Executive or part of the Judiciary. We both agreed that the notion that police were part of the judiciary would influence the position of a pollie who was an ex-policeman such as Peter Dutton and the like. Certainly Bill Stefaniak was influenced by his experience as a former police prosecutor.

And what about the Rev Fred Nile in NSW. He has brought his religious extremism into the NSW parliament. I know that there are many people in parliaments with religious views which influence their positions on social issues but at this point I am cogitating pollies, or potential pollies whose prior employment was within particular spheres.

Doug Nicholls in South Australia was a pastor who served in the South Australian parliament and went on to be knighted and become the Governor of that state. I am not aware that he used his experience as a clergyman to influence issues in South Australia. Labor has Gordon Ramsay running in Ginninderra and he is a minister of religion.

I guess, as long as men and women of the cloth understand the separation of church and state, all can be well.

So I don’t see the problem in people wearing uniforms in campaign material because it tells me a bit about how they tick. It is the candidates who have strong views on other social issues that I don’t see, which is more of a worry.

What’s Your opinion?


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22 Responses to
When ex-military politicians use the uniform to campaign
Masquara 10:38 pm 22 Jun 16

and while I’m about it, I don’t have pickies of me in battledress .

You actually fought?

John Hargreaves 8:28 pm 22 Jun 16

gooterz said :

Maya123 said :

rommeldog56 said :

Any comments about the clergy, Dungers?

I am aware that Fred Nile is also called “Rev. Fred Nile” but I am unaware of his extreme religious views. Does he advocate beheading people who oppose his views and throwing homosexuals of high places? Anything less than that is not really extreme.
While you alluded to the high number of lawyers that are attracted to political representation you conveniently forgot the fact that most Labor politicians come from a union background.
How about a photo of you at your desk in your battledress?

The Rev Fred Nile is a well know anti-gay, anti-abortion, ultra Christian. I went to a nursing home to day and was taking to a resident explaining who were on the ACT Senate ticket and (without explanation) said one of the candidates was running on the Fred Nile ticket, and the lady said “Oh no! no Way!” no influence form me. speaks volumes. Do you support the Fred Nile position or are you the only person in Australia who does not know him as a clergyman?

and while I’m about it, I don’t have pickies of me in battledress but I do have one with me in uniform. I don’t need it because my experience before going in to politics (unlike yourself) was in public service (in direct client contact) (again unlike yourself).

John Hargreaves 8:26 pm 22 Jun 16

Maya123 said :

rommeldog56 said :

Any comments about the clergy, Dungers?

I am aware that Fred Nile is also called “Rev. Fred Nile” but I am unaware of his extreme religious views. Does he advocate beheading people who oppose his views and throwing homosexuals of high places? Anything less than that is not really extreme.
While you alluded to the high number of lawyers that are attracted to political representation you conveniently forgot the fact that most Labor politicians come from a union background.
How about a photo of you at your desk in your battledress?

The Rev Fred Nile is a well know anti-gay, anti-abortion, ultra Christian. I went to a nursing home to day and was taking to a resident explaining who were on the ACT Senate ticket and (without explanation) said one of the candidates was running on the Fred Nile ticket, and the lady said “Oh no! no Way!” no influence form me. speaks volumes. Do you support the Fred Nile position or are you the only person in Australia who does not know him as a clergyman?

HenryBG 4:10 am 22 Jun 16

dungfungus said :

Another question also. Why should we deny the military folks the ability to fly their flags, and allow the greenies the opportunity to parade among the forests and wildlife?

I’m sure you could re-frame this comparison in order to say something a bit more meaningful.

Maybe take a hypothetical Greens candidate who is employed by Parks and Wildlife, using a photo of themselves in their Ranger uniform, if Parks and Wildlife have a policy around its staff using photos of themselves in uniform in campaign material.

Because otherwise your analogy makes no sense whatsoever and points at you not really understanding the extremely serious issue of serving members of the ADF being perceived by the taxpaying public to be using their Defence job to further a political aim.

madelini 11:26 am 21 Jun 16

Personally, I don’t need to know about the backgrounds of people running for government, except as general colour and information. I am definitely less inclined to vote for someone using old military photos as a part of their campaign – mostly because it feels either that they can’t let go of the past, or that they are prove something. As far as policies are concerned, I think that the ADF is currentlu adequately covered, and I would like to hear more actual policies covering health, education and infrastructure that affect us all. A picture of you in uniform from ten years ago doesn’t mean anything when it comes to policy.

Really, ex-military people entering politics don’t need to tell you that they’re ex-military – there’s something in their manner that tends to make it fairly obvious anyway (at both ACT and Federal level).

dungfungus 8:52 am 21 Jun 16

chewy14 said :

trudi said :

Nilrem said :

Very interesting article, enjoyed reading it. I think it’s ok for them to refer to their service and use pictures of them in uniform on campaign material, but I find it interesting as you point out that it’s mainly the ex-officers that tend to do this lol. Op Ed’s like this is what I enjoy reading from you John, the lack of personal bias in this article is refreshing compared to your recent op-ed’s.

“The truth of the matter didn’t matter much but the imagery certainly helped him……”
Yeah Moord, that’s not personal bias, is it.

Well, it’s still an op-ed, but to me this piece speaks more from John’s experience and less from his personal bias, like some of his other pieces. It’s just an individual judgement.

That’s subjective.
(Sorry abowt the incorect speling)

dungfungus 8:48 am 21 Jun 16

rommeldog56 said :

Any comments about the clergy, Dungers?

I am aware that Fred Nile is also called “Rev. Fred Nile” but I am unaware of his extreme religious views. Does he advocate beheading people who oppose his views and throwing homosexuals of high places? Anything less than that is not really extreme.
While you alluded to the high number of lawyers that are attracted to political representation you conveniently forgot the fact that most Labor politicians come from a union background.
How about a photo of you at your desk in your battledress?

Mordd 7:48 pm 20 Jun 16

Apologies Mordd for the misspelling of your handle. Fat fingers on the keyboard.

All good, im used to it, dungers did the same lol.

dungfungus said :

Another question also. Why should we deny the military folks the ability to fly their flags, and allow the greenies the opportunity to parade among the forests and wildlife?

Fair enough, if Bob got to use pictures of him saving the Franklin Dam, why not let former soldiers use pictures of them saving lives for their country, only seems fair. See, Greens members do have a sense of humour 😛

John Hargreaves 3:38 pm 20 Jun 16

Any comments about the clergy, Dungers?

John Hargreaves 3:37 pm 20 Jun 16

Apologies Mordd for the misspelling of your handle. Fat fingers on the keyboard.

John Hargreaves 3:37 pm 20 Jun 16

Moord, Thanks. I have been out of politics for a long time now and hope that for the most part I can give a perspective borne from experience. I am no academic and just say it how I see it.

Dungers, You can’t disagree with the notion that the imagery helped Pratt. You also must acknowledge that I have said nothing negative about him, although the temptation was truly there.

If there is a bias, it is because I have seen the exploitation of imagery in elections. A guy in the paper today said that at least voters could see what employment a candidate had if they were ex military, apart from being party hacks, union officials or corporate high flyers.

Another question also. Why should we deny the military folks the ability to fly their flags, and allow the greenies the opportunity to parade among the forests and wildlife?

Blen_Carmichael 1:12 pm 20 Jun 16

“I was having a conversation recently with a policeman friend of mine around the separation of powers doctrine and our differing views on whether police forces were part of the Executive or part of the Judiciary.”

I’ve never before heard the assertion that police are part of the judiciary (perhaps an informal judiciary but that’s for another conversation).

Mordd 12:58 pm 20 Jun 16

trudi said :

Nilrem said :

Very interesting article, enjoyed reading it. I think it’s ok for them to refer to their service and use pictures of them in uniform on campaign material, but I find it interesting as you point out that it’s mainly the ex-officers that tend to do this lol. Op Ed’s like this is what I enjoy reading from you John, the lack of personal bias in this article is refreshing compared to your recent op-ed’s.

“The truth of the matter didn’t matter much but the imagery certainly helped him……”
Yeah Moord, that’s not personal bias, is it.

Well, it’s still an op-ed, but to me this piece speaks more from John’s experience and less from his personal bias, like some of his other pieces. It’s just an individual judgement.

dungfungus 11:42 am 20 Jun 16

Nilrem said :

Very interesting article, enjoyed reading it. I think it’s ok for them to refer to their service and use pictures of them in uniform on campaign material, but I find it interesting as you point out that it’s mainly the ex-officers that tend to do this lol. Op Ed’s like this is what I enjoy reading from you John, the lack of personal bias in this article is refreshing compared to your recent op-ed’s.

“The truth of the matter didn’t matter much but the imagery certainly helped him……”
Yeah Moord, that’s not personal bias, is it.

Mordd 10:08 am 20 Jun 16

Very interesting article, enjoyed reading it. I think it’s ok for them to refer to their service and use pictures of them in uniform on campaign material, but I find it interesting as you point out that it’s mainly the ex-officers that tend to do this lol. Op Ed’s like this is what I enjoy reading from you John, the lack of personal bias in this article is refreshing compared to your recent op-ed’s.

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