In my blog of March 26 (below) ‘Using the military for political purposes’, I drew attention to three instances in which the Australian Defence Forces have been used, apparently willingly, to support the party-political aims of the government.
That political support has now been stepped up several notches by the comments of the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Angus Campbell, on a government television advertisement.
In a series of government advertisements on U-Tube, Angus Campbell, standing next to a sign ‘No way’ says ‘The message is simply, if you come to Australia illegally by boat there is no way you will ever make Australia home.’ Angus Campbell then adds ‘The Australian Government has introduced the toughest border protection measures ever … it is the policy and practice of the Australian Government to intercept any vessel that is seeking to illegally enter Australia and safely remove it beyond our waters.’
In this government advertisement General Campbell goes far beyond operational responsibility for government policy. He has allowed himself, apparently willingly, to become an arm and an advocate for the government’s political policies. John Menadue
On March 20 guest blogger Susie Carleton drew attention to the blanket acceptance of accounts by our service people in treatment of asylum seekers despite the record, according to former Defence Minister Stephan Smith of 2000 incidents of mis- treatment within the military itself including sexual abuse.
Last night’s 7.30 ABC program lent more credibility in my mind to the allegations against our service personnel in their treatment of asylum seekers.
We need to examine carefully what our military is doing.
In my blog of March 5 ‘The war on asylum seekers’, I drew attention to the misuse of the Australian military in Operation Sovereign Borders. That military style operation gives the impression that we are really being threatened and invaded and that our response to asylum seekers must be regarded as a military challenge. Operation Sovereign Borders also gives the government a threadbare excuse that the public is not entitled to be told what is really happening. ‘On water’ issues will not be discussed. The language is also about war. Tony Abbott told us that we are being invaded by boat people. Scott Morrison said that the government is ‘Using the full arsenal of measures’ to stop the boats. What should be a humanitarian issues backed by action by Customs and Immigration has become a war. Governments have used ‘the war on terrorism’ as an excuse for limiting our freedoms, ignoring our rights to information and exciting xenophobia. The same approach is now being made with the war on asylum seekers.
Unfortunately, the Australian Defence Force is allowing itself to be drawn into this abuse of their real responsibility. They have allowed themselves to become part of a political cover-up in their involvement in Operation Sovereign Borders.
But this misuse of the military by the government and the complicity of the military is not restricted to Operation Sovereign Borders. As reported in the Hobart Mercury of March 14, the Defence Chief David Hurley rebuked the Palmer United Party Senator-elect Jacqui Lambie. Jacqui Lambie, a ten-year military veteran, said ‘It’s clear from information that’s become public, and information received privately, that abuse, including sexual abuse in Australia’s Defence forces is an intractable problem’. She added that there was a ‘high level and poisonous culture of cover-up within Defence that has stopped abuse victims speaking out’. She was publicly rebuked by General Hurley in a letter in which he said that he was ‘alarmed’ by Ms Lambie’s use of emotive language to make accusations against senior military officers. He added ‘I encourage you in future to provide me an opportunity to address any matters of concern you may have rather than becoming aware of them through a media release. Ms Lambie reacted and accused General Hurley of using ‘patronising and condescending’ language. She said ‘For the head of Australia’s military, uninvited, to interfere with the public work of a democratically elected representative, attacks the very foundation of our system of democratic government’. General Hurley obviously thinks that ex-military people, particularly women, are fair game. The Minister for Defence has said nothing.
Not to be outdone by this bullying and abuse by General Hurley, Tony Abbott decided that he would join in during the South Australian election campaign. A Liberal Party banner was displayed at a Liberal campaign event at an RAAF base at Edinburgh. When this politically partisan act occurred on a military base, with the inappropriate use of the military, Tony Abbott’s office said there was no problem and the Defence minister avoided the issue by saying that he was away.
If the ADF continues to allow itself to be drawn into political partisanship as in Operation Sovereign Borders, the Tasmanian election and the South Australian election, Australia and the ADF will pay a heavy price. The ADF is a creation of the Australian government. It must act honourably and miscreants brought to account. It must never be part of a party-political operation. The ADF must never identify itself with the Liberal Party or any other party.