Scott Morrison has defended using a video on social media outlining the government’s actions in response to the bushfire crisis, saying it was not a Liberal party advertisement and was used only to inform the community.
A video posted on the prime minister’s Twitter and Facebook pages on Saturday outlined the actions the Morrison government had taken in bringing in the Australian defence force, navy ships and other actions to help out the state agencies battling fires across the south-east coast of Australia.
We’re putting more Defence Force boots on the ground, more planes in the sky, more ships to sea, and more trucks to roll in to support the bushfire fighting effort and recovery as part of our co-ordinated response to these terrible #bushfires pic.twitter.com/UiOeYB2jnv— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) January 4, 2020
The end of the ad contained an authorisation from “S. Morrison, Liberal Party, Canberra”.
The Liberal National party in Queensland also paid money to advertise a post linked to the press release for the announcement on Facebook, according to Facebook’s page transparency information.
The Australian Defence Association criticised the video, stating it was in breach of the non-partisan conventions restricting the use of the ADF in party political advertisements. The head of the ADA, Neil James, said it was “plain wrong”.
“It’s simple: you don’t use the defence force for party political advantage,” he told Guardian Australia.
“They put out a media release giving people all the information so you have to ask yourself what the purpose of the ad is, and the purpose is clearly party political advantage. And that is just plain wrong.”
On Sunday Morrison defended the use of the ad.
“It’s important that I communicate what we are doing with the Australian people,” he said. “As much as we’d all like to only rely on the reporting of the media to get those informations out, I would also seek to carry that message directly to the Australian people to ensure they are aware of what we are doing.”
He claimed that this format of ad had been used for months with no objections.
Most recently that format, including the authorisation and use of defence imagery, was used on 12 December, before the most recent flare-up of bushfires across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
#BREAKING: Aerial firefighting efforts will get another $11m boost from the Federal Government today, to help combat these terrible #bushfires. This is on top of the $15 million already provided each year. pic.twitter.com/9m4IS4EWqd— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) December 11, 2019
Morrison said Australian law required him to include the authorisation because it was a video posted to his personal Twitter account.
“As you know, the opposition, the Labor party and other parties have similar authorisations on the back of very similar types of messages that they have been conveying on their commentary about these events,” he said.
Under the Australian Electoral Commission’s guidelines for social media posts, authorisations are recommended if that video, for example, contains information with the dominant purpose of influencing the way someone votes, as defined in the Electoral Act.
Morrison said he would be open to reviewing the practice of the authorisations.
“Where that can be improved, I’m happy to take the helpful suggestions that have been made, that we’ve been acting in accordance with the same procedure we’ve had in place now for many, many months,” he said.
He denied the ad was sponsored by the Liberal party, although the Liberal party’s Twitter account retweeted the PM’s tweet and put out a separate tweet outlining the government’s response on the Liberal party page that had, until it was pointed out, contained a donate link for donations to the party.
Morrison said the video was made in his office and there were no real expenses of any significance attached to making the post.