This article is about Grahame Perrett, the Federal Labor MP for Moreton, who also happens to be an Air Force reservist. He claims that this is permissible and that he hasn’t been paid in this role, but the documentary evidence is not so clear. And now it’s time for Mr Perrett to answer some questions.
After all, there is a real question as to whether the Constitution allows politicians to receive payment for holding an ‘office for profit’ under the Crown. In fact, the same kind of question has just seen Family First Senator, Bob Day, booted from the parliament. So it’s a question that needs answering.
And then there’s the other thorny problem of double-standards in Defence, although I’m rather getting the impression that the hierarchy is entirely comfortable wallowing in its own hypocrisy.
However, bear with me because it will take some time to get where we’re going.
Let’s have a bit of background first.
Last week the Full Court of the Federal Court ruled that the Chief of Defence Force could sack me. It did so on the basis that I ‘disobeyed’ orders, even though it also found that the Chief of Defence Force had no legal power to enforce those same orders, that they were directed to my conduct as a civilian and that I could not face any military disciplinary action for not obeying them.
That’s the legal system for you. No other system could find that orders that cannot be enforced and that there is no legal requirement to obey are still orders and that one can be sacked for not following them, even though one does not have to do so. And who knows where this leaves the military justice system, which cleared me at every step and can now be bypassed at the Chief of Defence Force’s whim…
Anyway, just for the moment, let’s pretend that these so-called ‘orders’ were, in fact, orders.
This is part of the ‘order’ I received on 6 February 2013:
“…LTCOL Buxton advised that MAJ Gaynor needed to resign or transfer to the inactive reserve if he wished to be elected to public office. LTCOL Buxton stated to MAJ Gaynor that “if you want a political career, you can’t have a military career. It’s against policy…”
By way of context, this is the actual lawful general order (DI(G) PERS 21-1 Political activities of Defence personnel) that was extant at the time Lieutenant Colonel Buxton got up me:
A Defence member who wishes to contest an election must apply to the member’s Service Chief for transfer to the appropriate Reserve, for discharge, or for termination of full-time duty, as relevant, specifying which election and seat the Defence member intends to contest. This must be done prior to the candidate’s nomination to the DRO or AEO because the point at which nominations close and are declared is the first possible moment at which a candidate, if unopposed, could be declared to have been elected. On receipt of this advice, the Defence member must be formally advised of their obligations and service requirements using the appropriate letter format at either annex B or annex C.
This actual order doesn’t say anywhere that it’s against policy for a Defence member to have a political career. On the contrary, it is all about what Defence members must do if they want to embark on a political career and remain in the Reserves. The same policy also has provisions to ensure that unsuccessful candidates can return to duty in their previous rank and position.
By way of context, I was not a candidate at the time and, even if I was, no election had been called so it was impossible to even nominate to the Australian Electoral Commission. Hence there was no requirement to resign to the inactive reserve. And all of this means that everything I did was in line with a written order signed by the Chief of Defence Force. But it was not in line with the opinion of a lieutenant colonel who was going about issuing ‘orders’ that overruled Defence’s Top Dog.
Also by way of context, the above order has now been replaced. The new one states that Defence members can even conduct political campaigning in uniform – so long as their campaign meets the personal approval of the Chief of Defence Force. Hmmmm.
Back to the ‘orders’.
The Federal Court has ruled that Lieutenant Colonel Buxton’s orders trump everyone else’s, allowing the Chief of Defence Force to sack me for actually obeying the orders that he issued, and for ‘disobeying’ the orders of lower ranked officer.
I guess all this means that if a soldier receives two conflicting directions he should ignore the one coming from the higher-ranked guy lest he end up losing his job.
Now, I really don’t want to harp on too much more about these orders, but I also need to point out another salient feature so that you can fully grasp them.
I challenged Lieutenant Colonel Buxton’s orders on the basis that they were an abuse of power and amounted to political discrimination in the Defence workplace, a serious matter that is prohibited by Defence’s unacceptable behaviour policy.
My complaint was dismissed without any formal investigation.
Because it was ‘found’ that Lieutenant Colonel Buxton did not actually issue me any orders at all and therefore could not have engaged in an abuse of power. This is the decision I received:
“Based on the QA report, the QA could elicit no evidence that CO DIntTC sought to prohibit your political activity. I have determined that CO DIntTC acted in an advisory capacity based on extant Defence policy and his actions do not amount to unacceptable behaviour. Therefore, I have decided that your complaint is not substantiated and no further action will be taken by me in relation to this complaint.”
Luckily for me, the bloke who cleared Buxton was a character of the greatest moral flexibility. He still proceeded to charge me with military offences for disobeying orders that he himself found were not orders at all.
On the bright side, when the charges dropped on the desk of the Acting Director of Military Prosecutions he simply shoved ‘em over the side and into the bin. He was of the opinion that there was not a snowball’s chance in hell of a conviction.
I’m not sure which of the crucial elements saw the scales of justice fall in my favour. Perhaps it was the fact that Buxton was trying to impose himself on my civilian life. Perhaps it was the utter confusion and two-faced double-standards used to both ‘enforce’ his orders and simultaneously prevent any investigation of them. Perhaps it was the fact that Army reservists can only be charged with military offences for things that they do in uniform or on duty. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was actually obeying the written direction of the Chief of Defence Force.
Who knows? And who cares either? After all, the Full Court of the Federal Court has decided that simplicity is key and all these questions can be swept under the carpet.
Which brings us back to the point: let’s pretend that these ‘orders’ are orders.
If it is an order that it is against policy for a Defence member to have a political career, then this order and policy should be applied evenly and across the board.
And this brings us to Mr Perrett.
On 10 February this year, I appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee into 18c. I was on one side of the table arguing for sanity and a Roman-style campaign to erase the Australian Human Rights Commission from the face of the earth. Graham Perrett was on the other side of the table. He was clearly in favour of whatever the opposite of this is.
I think, probably, this entails increased funding and a new para-military wing so that the Thought Police can kick in the doors of dissenters in the middle of the night. In the midst of the toing and froing over these various positions, Graham said this:
“I should declare that I am a legal officer in the Royal Australian Air Force—a flight lieutenant. I have never had anything to do with your case, I should say.”
I’m glad a Federal Labor MP had nothing to do with my case. But that doesn’t get me far because my case still clearly involves a hypocritical Defence Force that’s happy to have a Federal Labor MP who is paid to express political opinions on a daily basis in its ranks while ‘ordering’ a conservative nobody that ‘it’s against policy’ to express any political opinions at all as a private citizen.
And that’s the point on double-standards. If Defence is going down this path, it should cut the double-speak and stop the smoke and mirrors. Instead of pretending to be ‘apolitical’, it should just let everyone know that left-leaning members can speak their minds and campaign and that all others must keep their mouths shut.
Actually, on reflection, I suppose that is exactly what Defence’s new ‘apolitical’ policy allows. Silly me.
Unsurprisingly, after Graham Perrett’s admission I decided to approach him at the end of the hearing and raise these double-standards. Again, unsurprisingly, he was not interested in discussing them at all. Graham simply told me that he had not been paid by the Air Force before disappearing as fast as he could.
Given Graham’s admission, he might care to explain this document. It appears to say the opposite of what he says. And it comes from the Royal Australian Air Force:
The last column clearly states ‘Amount Paid’.
And all the figures have been redacted.
True, it is possible that the figures are ‘$0.00’. It’s also possible that it just records the amount that normally would have been paid and that no payments have been made to Graham Perrett at all.
But it’s also true that this redacted document very much gives the impression that Graham Perrett has been paid by the Air Force. After he was elected to parliament. And even though he says that he has not received a dime.
So, I’m prepared to accept Graham Perrett’s word that he has not been paid, but only after he explains this document.
Until then, there are serious questions to be answered. One of them goes to the political neutrality of the Australian Defence Force. And the other goes to the credibility of Graham Perrett’s word.
And this is without even bringing in section 44 of the Constitution. A 1996 High Court ruling overturned Jackie Kelly’s election to House of Representatives because she was a full-time Air Force officer at the time she nominated as a candidate. This was enough to result in her disqualification even though she was not paid after her election and even though many did not consider Kelly to have breached any constitutional requirements.
Who knows what the High Court might rule if it was tasked with determining whether a politicised Defence Force could employ MPs as reservists…
Over to you Graham.