Scott Morrison sought to gain political mileage out of the fires, lifting Defence footage without permission for a controversial advert, a hearing has heard.
Scott Morrison sought to gain political mileage out of the fires, lifting Defence footage without permission for a controversial advert, a hearing has heard.

PM accused of copyright breach over bushfires ad

Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to gain political mileage out of the summer's devastating bushfires, breaching copyright to lift Australian Defence Force footage to create a party political social media commercial, a parliamentary hearing has heard.

The PM and his office came under fire from Labor in Senate estimates hearings, after strict copyright laws over use of military footage was apparently breached to make an "advertisement" for the Liberal Party.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was slammed by Labor for releasing a political ad during the bushfires. Picture: Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was slammed by Labor for releasing a political ad during the bushfires. Picture: Gary Ramage

And he was largely left to defend himself with the Defence apparatchik conceding neither the PM nor his office sought permission as stipulated by copyright laws attached to the footage on their website from where the material was lifted.

"Scotty from marketing, that is what it is," Labor's Senator Penny Wong said of the Prime Minister, a former tourism marketing executive, over putting out such promo material during a national crisis.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the advertisement was a “routine social media” production designed to inform the public. Picture: Gary Ramage
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said the advertisement was a “routine social media” production designed to inform the public. Picture: Gary Ramage

Despite an initial spirited rebuttal, Defence Department officials eventually conceded no permission was sought nor granted to Mr Morrison nor his media staff to use the footage depicting ADF troops on the bushfires frontline in January.

The action, Labor Senator Kimberley Kitchener said, constituted a clear breach of copyright.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds rejected the claim as a "totally and utterly" false premise it was an advertisement as opposed to "a routine social media" production designed to better inform the public in the midst of a national crisis.

"It wasn't an advertisement," she said to Labor guffaws in the Defence Senate Estimates committee hearing, who reminded her the last frame of the promo stated "authorised S.Morrison, Liberal Party Canberra".

CDF General Angus Campbell appeared at estimates to be questioned about footage of his troops used by the Liberal Party in party advertising. Picture: Gary Ramage
CDF General Angus Campbell appeared at estimates to be questioned about footage of his troops used by the Liberal Party in party advertising. Picture: Gary Ramage

According to defence copyright laws, material on its site cannot be used for advertising, displays, other websites or in any public or mass media context other than reporting news without specific authorisation from the Department of Defence.

Department secretary Greg Moriarty conceded no permission was sought nor granted by anyone in his department.

"No authorisation was sought, no authorisation was provided by the department senator, I have nothing further to add," he said, adding the department had raised the issue with the government but it was not taking it further.

He said he believed strongly that departmental policy should be adhered to.

Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell was also dragged into the debate and conceded he was not comfortable with the politics around the controversy of the use of footage of his troops.

General Campbell was asked if he had a view of the issue and said he had offered his "advice" to government at the time of the airing of the video.

"Whenever the Defence Force or any other a-political body finds itself between political parties I am discomforted and I don't suggest there was intentionality in that circumstance but the ADF in particular needs to, wherever possible and always, be in a nonpartisan reality and perception," he said.

"I am discomforted but I did not see ill-intent in the actions and I appreciate this is not a conversation where the ADF wants to be."

Similar questions over the controversial promo were raised by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during Question Time in the House.


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