This was the headline in The Australian of 1 April 2004. According to the Hobart Mercury, the Tasmanian Governor, Richard Butler, in an address in Hobart had launched into a hard-hitting attack on US foreign policy. The Opposition leader, Rene Ridding said the comments were in breach of the non-political protocols which surround the vice-regal office. He said the Governor had accused the US of total self interest, of beating the living daylights out of anyone they do not like and of tearing up international law!
Piers Akerman recalled in the Sydney newspaper, the Daily Telegraph of 1 April 2004 that Mr Butler had declared he would not do this when he became the Governor. Mr Butler had said: My days of directly attacking the policies of a particular government are, for the time being over. Mr Akerman's piece was published under the headline:
SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL
Mr Akerman writes that Mr Butler's pledge to be non-political was never going to last. Apparently this breach was too much for the new Tasmanian Premier, Mr Paul Lennon who, according to The Australian and AAP, chided Mr Butler over his breaches of protocol. The Premier said Mr Butler had agreed he would no longer comment on foreign and domestic policy. Mr Ridding, who had called on the Premier to act, said the Premier had given Mr Butler an ultimatum. And. it does seem like an ultimatum. The Premier actually used these words : I expect this undertaking to be strictly adhered to, the Premier was referring to the undertaking to be non-political Mr Butler had given to the then Premier, Jim Bacon, who reported this to the House of Assembly on 29 August 2003. Note the words Mr Lennon used – I expect this undertaking to be STRICTLY adhered to. This, used by a premier in relation to a governor, is extra-ordinary. It is certainly the language of an ultimatum, although Mr Lennon was too polite to call it this. After all the message is there. It suggests that any further transgression will lead to the imposition of a sanction. Now there is only one real sanction available to the Premier- advice to Her Majesty to withdraw the vice-regal commission to Mr Butler.
It is clear that Mr Ridding and Mr Lennon have done their duty. And no one can criticise Mr Lennon for over reacting. He has performed his duty punctiliously. The point is that in our system, the Crown is and must remain above politics. Mr Butler's latest transgression was blatant. Soon after he accepted the appointment, he made the mistake of attributing comments to The Queen, comments of which there is no record Her Majesty ever uttered. We immediately said he should not, but we welcomed his conversion to the acceptance of our constitutional system, and the constraints which would apply to him as Governor. All of this was evidenced by his swearing the Oath of Allegiance to the Sovereign. But then he unnecessarily caused distress to the
volunteers in the Order of St John- who are seen not only at sporting events but at all sorts of disasters working quietly away to relieve suffering and to save lives- by refusing to accept the office of Deputy Prior.
This is an office traditionally held by the Governor which allows him to preside over ceremonies recognizing the work of these good people. And now because of his latest folly, The Australian today came out with this devastating editorial- TASSIE'S GOVERNOR IS BECOMING A LIABILITY The Australian asks why Mr Butler is working to undermine the small export- based Tasmanian economy by attacking a major trading partner, and why he does not try to discountenance any suggestion of partisanship. The editor compares this with the fine example of vice-regal constraint set by the Governor – General, Major – General Michael Jeffery. Can you just imagine the problem Mr Butler would be if he were the President of the republic, or the state equivalent? Fortunately he is not. Let us hope that Mr Butler has at last learned his lesson. There is one simple guideline which Mr Butler should remember in all of this- what would Her Majesty, who is universally acknowledged as the model Constitutional Monarch do. If Mr Butler remembers this, he will not repeat this transgression.