Opinion – Politics out of Uniform

23 Jun 2016

ROSS EASTGATE, Townsville Bulletin June 23, 2016 

Ross Eastgate

AFGHANISTAN veteran Winston Churchill shamelessly exploited his military service to pursue his political ambitions.

It was at Westminster not Canberra but after serving in India, Sudan, South Africa and a stint as an accredited observer in Cuba, Winston campaigned using lantern slides of his service to convince Oldham voters to elect him in 1900.

It wasn’t exactly PowerPoint, but Winston knew tales of his derring-do would do his political aspirations no harm.

While serving with Britain’s Territorial (reserve) Army, he took leave of parliament to command a battalion on France’s western front in 1916 after the Gallipoli disaster, for which as First Lord of the Admiralty – the term then used to describe the navy minister – he held considerable responsibility.

He held the same role when World War II was declared and then as prime minister never shirked appearing in uniform of each of three services in which he held honorary appointments while visiting troops in the field and observing combat close hand. 


Churchill’s example was mirrored by generations of Australian politicians with distinguished war service. Colonel Neville Howse who earned Australia’s first VC in South Africa and commanded medical services at Rabaul, Gallipoli and in France had a distinguished parliamentary career and was federal minister for defence, health and repatriation.

There’s a long list of parliamentarians at state and federal level who used their military reputations for political advantage.

Queenslanders General Sir William Glasgow, premier Sir Frank Nicklin who was awarded a Military Medal in France in WWI, South Australian Premiers Playford and Corcoran, WWII Changi POWs Major Reg (later Sir Reginald) Schwartz and Tom Uren, prime ministers Stanley Bruce, John Gorton and Gough Whitlam were among myriad parliamentarians of all persuasions who were happy to mention their military service.

Then considered an advantage it is now apparently taboo.

Their real service was a far cry from images of some of Australia’s contemporary politicians making fly-in quickly fly-out visits to ADF operational deployments, decked out in layers of personal protection equipment.

Nor do they apparently understand military convention. Once upon a time (WARNING: Boring old soldier statement to follow) there were three taboo subjects in military, off-duty, social conversation; sex, politics and religion.

Now apparently it is entirely appropriate to wrap your sexual politics in uniform while marching in the Sydney LGBTIQ mardi-gras with a two-star officer leading.


There’s some ambiguity about religion because it’s apparently OK for a Muslim female wearing religious attire in uniform but not a male wrapping his Christian beliefs in the same uniform.

As for politics, forget it.

Winston had neither PowerPoint nor corflutes and billboards.

Dare run for political office today for any party showing yourself in uniform using either and you run the risk of being sacked or having to resign on the advice of the dysfunctional defence PR organisation which believes such actions damage the ADF reputation.

It must be them because the senior uniformed hierarchy would not be so stupid as to attempt bullying future parliamentarians, possibly ministers.

Would they?