The former SAS officer who is the Liberal party’s candidate in a key federal byelection commanded a unit being investigated for chopping the hands off dead fighters, it has been reported.
in Afghanistan was carried out by one or more soldiers under the command of then Captain Andrew Hastie who is standing for the West Australian seat of Canning, Fairfax Media reported on Saturday.
The hands of three Taliban fighters killed in combat by the SAS soldiers were believed to have been removed to identify them by fingerprinting, sparking a defence investigation that has lasted more than two years and is ongoing.
It is understood Hastie, 32, was not present at the time of the incident but was elsewhere on the battlefield, Fairfax reported.
Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James said on Saturday the former captain did not make the decision.
“It was made by one of the patrol commanders when they were operating in a dispersed fashion,” James told ABC radio. “The decision was entirely justified in the circumstances so that should be the end of it.”
The opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said he would not criticise the Liberal candidate, adding “that’s just not who I am”.
“I respect the work of the defence forces, I respect the work that they’ve done overseas,” he said.
Addressing the WA Liberal conference in on Saturday, state president Norman Moore said Hastie “looks the goods to me”.
Hastie for the position of Liberal candidate for Canning: “As an SAS officer with active service experience, I have a demonstrated capacity to fight for the Australian way of life.”
He was recommended by the Liberal party’s selection committee as the best of seven candidates and had the backing of senior Liberals including the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, and the foreign minister, Julie Bishop.
The byelection, triggered by the death of Liberal MP Don Randall,
Randall, who died of a heart attack in July, had a lead of almost 12% in Canning, but the latest Newspoll shows that margin has all but disappeared.
The poll, which surveyed 508 Canning voters last weekend and was , shows the government ahead by 51% to 49% in two-party-preferred terms. At the last federal election in 2013 it won with 61.8% to Labor’s 38.2%.
The prime minister, Tony Abbott, told reporters on Friday he was “confident, but not complacent or cocky” about the Liberals’ chances in the byelection. He said Randall had attracted a strong personal vote.
“So I’m not saying for a moment that we’re going to hold Don’s margin, but nevertheless we’ve got a terrific candidate. Andrew Hastie is an outstanding individual,” Abbott said.