Queen Elizabeth II, as Queen of Australia, has conferred the title of Dame in the Order of Australia on the Governor of New South Wales, Professor Marie Roslyn Bashir. Her Majesty had appointed Dame Marie as Governor in 2001, Her Excellency taking up the office on 1 March.
Under a system unique in the Commonwealth of Nations, The Queen of Australia is advised on the appointment of a state governors by the premier. In Canada, similar appointments are made by the governor general advised by the prime minister.
Under the Australian system, which The Queen personally agreed to, local considerations are paramount, demonstrating how well the Australian Crown serves our federal system.
The wisdom of this arrangement and the advantages of our constitutional monarchy have been very well demonstrated by the appointment of Dame Marie.
As The Sydney Morning Herald observed, and both sides of politics agreed, this was "an inspired choice" . And so it proved to be. With extensions, her term has been extended until September this year when she will retire at her own request.
Born in Narrandera, she was educated at the selective Sydney Girls High School, the Conservatorium of Music and the University of Sydney where she graduated in medicine and surgery. In 1957 she married a future Lord Mayor of Sydney who was subsequently knighted. Sir Nicholas Shehadie was to be a perfect consort for the future governor.
At the time of her appointment as Governor, Dame Marie was already well known for her concern and for her psychiatric work in the field of adolescent mental health , which was recognised in 1988 when she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO)
Even after taking up the post of Governor, and while fulfilling punctiliously her official duties, Dame Marie continued to maintain her interests in the well-being of the mentally ill, the indigenous and the disadvantaged.
In addition she continued to demonstrate her close personal interest in music, the Armed Forces and in particular the Navy.
Each year in Sydney on Anzac Day the Governor would be present at the Dawn Service, and then some hours later in the morning, actually leading the long procession through the streets of Sydney.
This was greatly appreciated both by the veterans and the public.As patron of an increasingly large number of organisations Dame Marie made a particular point of becoming aware of the activities of each of them. Whenever she presided over an investiture she demonstrated that not only was she most interested in each of the recipients, she was also very well informed as to their achievements.
While Governor, Dame Marie unusually accepted an invitation to become the 17th Chancellor of the nation's oldest University, her Alma mater, the University of Sydney, where she had once found the time to lecture and mentor students. As with all of her activities she filled the position of Chancellor with distinction.
Unlike the situation in England, Australian Chancellors are closely involved as chairmen of the councils or senates of their universitiesShe was always steadfast in her loyalty to the Sovereign whom she represented. In acknowledgement of her service, The Queen conferred on her the rank of Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (CVO).
In many ways Dame Marie has mirrored the long followed theme of the present Royal House, which is that the essential role and function of the monarch is to serve the people and never to play a political role.
… head of state…
As that doyen of constitutional lawyers, Professor PH Lane once observed, since the early grant of responsible government, the Governor of an Australian is in effect the local constitutional monarch. Indeed, the first High Court – made up of founding fathers – described the governor as the "head of state" and the governor-general as the ''constitutional head of the Commonwealth'', the King being described as the ''Sovereign''.Professor Bashir's term was not a quiet period politically in New South Wales. In fact she was to commission six Premiers.
During one period, she was inundated with calls from the public for the dismissal of the government. She courteously refused to intervene for the impeccable reason that constitutionally, there were no grounds requiring or even permitting this . There was nothing which had triggered the exercise of the discretionary reserve powers.
..expulsion from Government House…
Once again we see the Crown playing its important role – not exercising power but denying it to others. It should be noted that during most of her term, governors had been expelled from their purpose built home, Government House.
The 1996 decision by the then Premier to seize Government House proved to be so unpopular that a peaceful demonstration in Macquarie Street Sydney called by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy brought out over 20,000 people, one of the largest seen in the state. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating was to blame this decision on his loss of the 1996 Federal election.
As a consequence, for most of her term, Dame Marie lived at home and had to commute daily to her office and backwards and forwards to Government House. ( Had this continued, her successor General Hurley who did not live in Sydney could not have been appointed without a suitable house being acquired for him.)
In the meantime, there was been a widespread and growing appreciation of the way in which Dame Marie fulfilled her duties as Governor.
This was acknowledged not only in the state but across the nation, Dame Marie acting from time to time as administrator of the Commonwealth in the absence of the Governor-General.
Respected overseas,she was invested with three foreign orders.The second longest serving Governor of New South Wales, Dame Marie is a worthy successor to those predecessors whom she so admires, Arthur Phillip and Lachlan Macquarie.
The award of the title Dame is a most appropriate recognition of her many services.