On 25 May, the Vice Chief of Defence Force (VCDF), Vice Admiral Ray Griggs gave an extraordinary speech to the Order of Australia Association.
During this speech, Griggs hypocritically blasted ‘conservative’ media outlets while claiming that the ADF’s decision to march in uniform at the Mardi Gras is apolitical:
More fraught has been the decision that we took in 2013 to allow ADF members, many of whom had been participating in the Sydney Mardi Gras in civilian clothes for a number of years, to join the NSW Police and wear uniforms in the parade.
As a senior leadership group it took about 15 months to make this decision. We believe it was the right decision, the only decision we could make if we wanted to show tangible evidence and send a strong message to the broader ADF that we as a team were committed to our cultural change path.
There is no doubt that the Mardi Gras started as a political event nearly four decades ago. We don’t deny it. It was then social and political activism fighting for improved rights, recognition and acceptance for the Gay and Lesbian community. But as society evolved, so did Mardi Gras, and from its political roots it has emerged to be a celebration of pride and self-expression. More than that, it is now about inclusion and tolerance – that is why we participate; that is why each year our contingent includes members who identify as LGBTI and others who don’t, marching side-by-side to show support for their workmates.
Of course elements of our society do not agree with the decision that we took. More conservative media outlets have attacked the move under the charge that it “politicises” the ADF. It is a charge that the leadership of the ADF utterly reject.
It is simply astonishing that the second most senior officer in the ADF could, in a few short sentences, completely destroy the apolitical standing of Defence.
Marching in the Mardi Gras, an event that Griggs himself unashamedly acknowledges is political, politicises the ADF.
And doubling down on this tremendous leadership failure by attacking ‘conservative’ commentators such as Miranda Devine absolutely reinforces the fact that senior Defence leaders have declared war on Australian conservatives.
Miranda Devine called out Defence’s troubling foray into domestic politics in an excellent article written earlier this year:
“The Mardi Gras constitution states the parade is a “cultural, political and protest” activity, and its Board has called on the Government to “pass a Marriage Equality Bill”.
This was the context in which roughly four ADF platoons marched last night down Oxford Street, wedged between the City of Sydney’s “Say Yes to Love” float, featuring dancing brides and grooms, and the “Australians for Equality” float, whose “key message is to achieve marriage equality via a free vote in parliament”.
So there was no ambiguity about the message the ADF is endorsing. It is a party political message, because the position of the Coalition is for a plebiscite on whether marriage is redefined, while Labor and the Greens want a parliamentary vote. When young Army leaders at a recent diversity training course expressed concerns that marching in the Mardi Gras constituted political activity, they were told it was simply a “cultural event”.
But that is manifestly untrue.”
And manifestly untrue it is.
We don’t need Miranda Devine’s word to demonstrate this. Nor do we need mine.
Embarrassingly for the VCDF, all we need is the word of the Sydney Mardi Gras itself. And here it is, in a submission lodged with Parliament’s committee into ‘marriage equality’:
Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras is a not-for-profit community organisation that organises and co-ordinates events of celebration, commemoration and protest for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ) community and engages in other activities as part of that community.
Among the company’s objectives as per our constitution is sustaining and strengthening the LGBTIQ community by contributing to its social economic, cultural and political development and advancing the goals of our community, which includes the full acceptance of the community and equal rights within Australia and internationally. This includes support for Marriage Equality in Australia and across the world.
There we have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. The Mardi Gras is a protest that is carried out for political purposes.
And what would that purpose be? Let’s again look at the submission:
This year marks the 39th anniversary of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade and with the theme of ‘Creating Equality’ will shine a spotlight on the way she can all work together to eliminate discrimination and prejudice in all its forms. By its very definition, “Equality” ensures everyone is treated fairly and equally – an no-one is discriminate against because of their sexuality, sex, gender identity, race, beliefs, age or abilities.
The Board of Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras supports the amendments of the Marriage Act 1961 to define marriage as being between two people.
The VCDF is lying to himself and to the rest of us with his pretence that the Mardi Gras is not political.
His credibility and judgment are left in tatters. And this is now on the parliamentary record as well.
Griggs was asked in Senate estimates earlier this month by Senator Malcolm Roberts about political activity in the Defence Force:
Senator ROBERTS: What is the current defence policy on ADF members engaging in political activities?
Vice Adm. Griggs: I think we covered this in the last session. The policy is very clearly laid out in what is called the Mil Pers Man, or military personnel manual. The overriding factor for the ADF is to remain apolitical.
Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. Has defence policy on political activity changed since 2012? What were the reasons for any change?
Vice Adm. Griggs: I do not believe there has been any significant change to the policy.
In this short exchange, Griggs was wrong. Not once. But twice.
There has been a very significant change to Defence’s policy on political activity since 2012.
Previously, Defence members were forbidden from attending events of a political nature in uniform under any circumstances. Now the CDF has given himself the power to determine what political events Defence members can support in their official capacity. And he has also given himself the power to restrict the private political activities of Defence members that he disagrees with, or to even sack Defence members who happen to hold conservative political views.
One can only speculate why Griggs would try and downplay this revolution within Defence policy.
But it also means that his claim that the overriding goal of Defence’s policy on political activity is to keep the ADF apolitical is wrong as well.
The policy does nothing of the sort. Instead, it allows the CDF to use the ADF to promote political causes domestically – provided they meet the approval of the nation’s most senior military officer.
What an absolute joke. This truly is the stuff of banana republics. How very South Americanish we’ve become.