September 12

Farewell to a great Governor-General


The farewell to the former Governor-General, Major General Jeffery and Mrs Jeffery was moving.

His tenure was marked by a vicious campaign by some republican elements both in politics and the media to damage him.

Encouraged by their success in campaigning against his predecessor, they mainly ignored him, or occasionally concocted imaginary stories about him. 

The purposes were twofold. These were to damage both the office so as to facilitate its destruction, and to inflict the maximum collateral damage on the then prime minister, John Howard.

It was good then to see an editorial recognizing the Governor-General’s contributions.

..a job well done…

In “A job well done” ( The Australian 2 September, 2008)  the editor praises the work of our former Governor-General.

Rejecting media stories about people not knowing who the Governor-General is, he points out the elementary truth – popularity contests are not what the occupant of the highest office in the land should aspire to.

“History will judge Major General Jeffery as a dedicated and principled Governor-General who restored dignity to the vice-regal position after the controversial tenures of his predecessors, Peter Hollingworth and William Deane,” he writes

The editor refers to Dr Hollingworth's alleged mishandling of allegations of sexual abuse in the Anglican Church: actually there was little or no evidence of this.

Rather there was the editing of a crucial response on TV which was seriously damaging.

Strangely this incident completely escaped the ABC’s Media Watch.

The Australian says Sir William Deane politicised the office and turned it into a lightning rod for various causes.

The editor says  Major-General Jeffery was chosen to bring stability and respect to the office.

The Australian’s conclusion is he succeeded.

 “And if he did not attract the same scrutiny as his predecessors, it is because he avoided self-aggrandisement and understood the apolitical nature of his job.”

Actually he did, but even with their inventiveness, nothing at all could be found.

“Although The Australian has long supported this country becoming a republic, Major-General Jeffrey's tenure has blunted the urgency of that change, “ says the editor without explaining why throwing out one of the world’s most successful constitutional system is somehow “urgent”.

I had mistakenly thought that The Australian wanted to forget the hysteria it exhibited in its misguided and unworthy over-the -top campaign for a Yes vote in 1999.

The sight of a national newspaper panicking when defeat stared it in the face, and  foisting “Vote Yes “ bumper stickers on its readership was embarrassing and unworthy.

That apart, the editor correctly endorses one of the General’s observations – the role of a governor-general is similar to that of an umpire.

“Whatever the system of government, it is essential that Australia has an apolitical referee.”

The Australian wants a person with strong affinity to all Australians and “an ability to articulate the issues that concern them.”

I have never understood that latter concept. I thought we went to the media for that, not the Governor-General.

But I agree with the editor’s conclusion that Quentin Bryce appears a worthy successor, likely to follow “the same apolitical, non-controversial and non-interventionist approach that became the most enduring legacy Major-General Jeffery's distinguished tenure.”



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