A red carpet reception for Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a recent visit to an Australian air base did not follow standard Defense Force protocol, according to two former prime ministers.
Both Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd did not remember receiving red carpet treatment at an Australian military base.
A spokeswoman for Turnbull said the former prime minister “does not remember any domestic arrivals at a RAAF base or commercial airport where he was met by a ceremonial guard on the stairs”.
Rudd’s spokesman added that, to Rudd’s knowledge, such a reception was not the standard protocol for a visit by the prime minister to a defense force facility.
Former leaders’ comments were published after a photo showing Morrison landing a plane on a red carpet flanked by armed soldiers at RAAF Base in Williamtown was posted to the Prime Minister’s Instagram account on May 7.
The image was met with disbelief online, including from former members of the Defense Forces.
Ray Martin, a 40-year veteran of the ADF, said on twitter that during his tenure under eight prime ministers he “never saw one receive a red carpet and an honor guard for an internal visit to a base”.
According to a Defense Department spokeswoman, the image shows a “Ceremonial Ladder Guard made up of members of the RAAF Base Williamtown”.
She added that most Air Force bases maintained a red carpet for ceremonial events and VIP arrivals, and that the Ceremonial Guard of the Ladder was “the standard protocol for the arrival of VIPs”, including prime ministers.
But that statement, which contradicts Rudd and Turnbull’s recollections, was strongly contested by Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defense Association, who said he initially thought the photo was a “photoshop scam”.
“Is it standard procedure for a prime minister to be greeted by a ceremonial staircase guard? The clear answer is no,” said James.
“It doesn’t matter if you are visiting a ship, an army base or an air force base, it just doesn’t happen.”
According to Mr. James, a VIP reception was reserved for dignitaries such as the governor-general, a visiting head of state or the monarch.
“Generally speaking, a visit from a minister, including the prime minister, is not a VIP visit,” said James.
A Morrison spokesman declined to answer questions about who provided the red carpet and the ceremonial guard, but confirmed that the image was not copied.
Mr. James added that seeing members displaying weapons, like those next to the red carpet in Mr. Morrison’s photo were depicted doing, is “very unusual”.
“You normally only present weapons in a formal parade,” he said.
Why is the photo important?
According to Mr. James, the reaction to Mr. Morrison’s photo was “fully justified”.
“One of the key points about the Defense Force is that you don’t put the Defense Force into political controversy,” said James.
He explained that the principle of civilian control of the military is reciprocal and that, while it is important that the Defense Forces are not involved in politics, it is also the responsibility of politicians not to involve it.
“It is not just the military that needs to be politically neutral, it is that politicians do not need to do anything that undermines the public’s confidence that the military is apolitical,” he said.
According to Mr. James, the decision to post Mr. Morrison’s photo on Instagram was “dumb”.
“Certainly someone in the Prime Minister’s Office should have looked at this and said ‘it will embarrass the Defense Forces’ political neutrality, we shouldn’t use that,'” he said.
A dip in the archives
Fact Check searched the Defense Force image archives and the newspaper archive of the National Library of Australia, Trove, for past instances of Ceremonial Guards and red carpets used to receive prime ministers and other dignitaries at the facility. Defense Force.
In February of this year, the Ministers of Defense and Defense Industry, Linda Reynolds and Melissa Price, as well as the Air Force Chief, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld and Vice Marshal Cath Roberts, were photographed being received at RAAF Base Williamtown in a similar way.
They were accompanied by Mr. Morrison, although he is not visible in the photos.
Other images show ceremonial guards and red carpets in place for a official visit the head of the Indonesian Air Force in 2007, as well as a Visit from former Governor-General Peter Cosgrove to RAAF Darwin Base in 2018.
The fact check was unable to find images or reports of former prime ministers receiving the same welcome.
Ellen McCutchan is a senior researcher on the RMIT ABC Fact Check team and editor of the weekly newsletter CoronaCheck