In a bombshell admission, the former NSW Premier, Hon. Bob Carr has thrown new light on his extraordinary decision to throw the Governor out of Government House.
In 1996, during the Keating led euphoria of a republic whose early birth was deemed inevitable by Australia’s elites, Carr decided he would make his mark on republican history.
He would not only throw the Governor out of his home, Government House, he would make the office part time!
Those ceremonial functions the Premier deemed “excessive, irrelevant and unbecoming” would be removed.
That a premier would think he was entitled or authorised to make such a decision is an indication of a disregard of the checks and balances on power in our constitutional system.
Carr announced that the new Governor, the Hon Gordon Samuels would continue to live at Bronte, with reduced staff and functions, and continue as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission.
This, Carr curiously said, would bring the office closer to the people.
Carr was photographed, Svengali-like, standing behind the seated Governor. His quip:’That’s one for Jack Lang!’ sent a shudder through those astounded that a Premier would harbour a longing to take revenge on a Governor who had dismissed a Premier for persisting in an illegal course of conduct sixty four years earlier!
Carr’s decision shocked the state and the nation. The reaction among the public, the Parliament, the Caucus and even the Cabinet was almost completely one of disapproval.
There were rumblings in his party, and fears this could impact on the coming federal election.
Writing that the Premier and the Prime Minister Paul Keating thoroughly detested one another, PP McGuinness wrote that” If Keating loses the Prime Ministership, he will certainly blame it on Carr’s initiative in downgrading the status of Governor of NSW”
(See Sir David Smith, Head of State, 2005, Macleay Press, Paddington)
And as Sir David Smith points out, seven weeks later, Paul Keating did indeed lose the prime ministership, and less than four years later the Australian people decisively rejected the Keating-Turnbull republic. Soon after making his decision, Carr had to backtrack. The Governor was not to be, as one newspaper quipped,” His Part- Time Excellency”.
The impossibility and unconstitutionality of the Governor continuing in a subordinate office of profit under the Crown threatened to create a major scandal.
Soon the costs of the decision escalated when it was realized that security would have to be maintained in not one but three places in different parts of Sydney. In fact, the decision proved substantially more costly than before.
And in the last year, there were fewer visitors than during the time of the last Governor in residence.
In addition to the increased costs, the evidence that the House was no more accessible to the public than it had been, there were two other disadvantages which Carr had obviously not thought about.
One is for the Governor. She must move, regularly, between her home, her office and Government House. Indeed, at the mere hint of a photo opportunity showing him walking into the grounds, Carr would insist the Governor receive him at Government House.
This constant movement, with its security demands , has become more difficult as traffic conditions ironically worsened in Sydney during the period of the Carr administration.
The other disadvantage is that nobody who lives outside of Sydney, however eminent, can now be appointed as Governor. Where would he or she live?
Was this a studied insult to those who do not live in Sydney? Or was it , like the decision to make the office part time, indicative of a careless , ill thought out decision more appropriate to some other land where hatreds are timeless and irrational- an act of revenge on the memory of Sir Phillip Game?
Notwithstanding the fact that this was almost universally seen as a very bad decision, and he had to abandon his wish to make the office part time, Carr never relented in keeping the Governor out of Government House, except when it suited him.
Carr's recent bombshell explains his why he was so stubborn.
We'll continue this story in our next column
Until next time,