Err in Hastie
Andrew Hastie seems uncertain about his role as a backbench MP

The neophyte Liberal backbencher, Andrew Hastie, clearly needs some tuition in the idea of the separation of powers.

Informed by the Australian Defence Force that it was against the rules for him to wear his uniform as part of his election campaign, the former soldier and then member of the Army Reserve replied loftily: “I am a member of parliament. I do not take orders from the military.”

Presumably he also assumes that his exemption from the regulations that apply to normal people extends to the sporting field, the police, the courts – just about everything, in fact. He seems to believe that once he has been elected to a seat in the House of Representatives, he has become above the law – he can do whatever he damn well likes, and that’s all there is to it.

Well, I fear we have news for Mr Hastie and his fellow warriors (strictly in the metaphorical sense) Scott Morrison and Matthias Cormann, both of whom enthusiastically defended his position.

The defence minister, Marise Payne, who actually knows something about the subject, pointed out that the rules were perfectly clear and that when Hastie had refused to follow them he had been dismissed as a member of the Army Reserve.

Similarly a Labor candidate in Brisbane, former army officer Pat O’Neill, had been instructed to remove campaign material showing him in uniform. Mike Kelly in Eden-Monaro was unable to comply with a similar instruction and reluctantly resigned from the Reserve. The defence establishment jealously guards its political independence, as it should.

And the comparisons about the army politicising issues by allowing officers to march in the Sydney Mardi Gras are simply absurd. The Mardi Gras is supported by both sides of politics in both the state and federal spheres; if it ever was seen as a party political issue, it certainly is not now.

What Morrison, Cormann, Hastie and now Jim Molan, another former officer turned Liberal candidate who has joined in the fray, are really saying is that they are entitled to claim military credentials as a matter of right; that the ADF should not actually be considered a Commonwealth resource above party politics even within the context of an election.

The mere suggestion that it should be given to the masses – to women, to gays, to Moslems, to all those the former chief and now Australian of the Year David Morrison has sought to include – is somehow to diminish their own privileged status. Hence they want the right to flaunt it, not as honoured veterans, but as defiant conservatives.

But sooner or later they will have to join the 21st century: Hastie is no longer a crack commando in the SAS, but a humble politician, a cog in the process of Australian democracy. And yes, he does have to take legitimate orders from the ADF, and from any other authorities the government may appoint – if in doubt, he may consult the relevant minister.

That, after all, is the role of a backbencher, which is what Hastie is and what he is likely to remain for at least a few years. He is the member for Canning, not the Holy Roman Emperor. He’ll need to get used to it. 

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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