Mr. Phillip Adams’ ill conceived attack on Sir Robert Menzies’ recommendation of Lord Casey as Governor-General reminded me of Sir Robert’s preferred procedure in such appointments. I was not aware of this until a friend, who had known Sir Robert well, told me that he thought that the practice was that Prime Ministers gave The Queen three choices.
In the first volume of his memoirs, Afternoon Light, published in 1967, Sir Robert reveals that he had proposed, and The Queen had agreed, on a procedure for the appointment of future Governors-General. Under this, they would first discuss the kind of person they were looking for. The Prime Minster would then come back with three names, and The Queen would also think of potential nominees. They would then discuss the names, and once they had agreed on someone, the Prime Minster would nominate that person.
On the first occasion this procedure was followed, it was a spectacular success. Sir Robert, with The Queen’s approval, had also sought three names from the Marquess of Salisbury, a British statesman whom Sir Robert had grown to respect after initially mistaking his capacity for silence in war time meetings as indicative of a ‘Yes-man’. (The Marquess was a descendant of William Cecil,Lord Burghley, principal minister to Elizabeth 1. As The Guardian (15 July, 2003) said in his obituary, he strikingly lacked the gene of political manipulation that had marked out the Cecils for over four centuries.)
Sir Robert, fine constitutional lawyer that he was, would have been well aware of the practice agreed at the Imperial Conference in 1930, which provided that the source of advice on the appointment of a Governor-General would no longer be the British ministers, but those of the Dominion, or as we would now say, the Realm concerned. The procedure also made provision for ‘informal consultation with His Majesty” before formal advice is tendered. Sir Robert,a man of impeccable courtesy and propriety, was also influenced by the fact that the Governor-General was The Queen's representative -in his view Her Majesty should be content with the choice. I wonder whether any Prime Minister, or since 1986, any Premier, has followed Sir Robert’s wise practice?
That first appointment in 1953 under the Menzies procedure was of a distinguished soldier, who had led the liberation Burma from the Japanese occupation, a former commander of Allied Land Forces in South-East Asia and Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir William Slim. A war hero who had served at Gallipoli and had been awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, he was an outstanding and a most popular choice. In the year following the end of his term in 1959, he was created the 1st Viscount Slim of Yarralumla and Bishopston.
Some of our other Governors-General have come with distinguished war records. Viscount Dunrossil, who succeeded Sir William Slim in 1960, had also been awarded the Military Cross. And his successor, Viscount De L'Isle, was awarded the Victoria Cross at Anzio in 1944.
Our present Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery also has a distinguished military record. Graduating from the Royal Military College, Duntroon,in 1958, he served in Malaya, Papua New Guinea, where he married Marlena Kerr of Sydney, and in Vietnam where he was awarded the Military Cross. In 1972 Jeffery was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel to command the 2nd Battalion of the Pacific Islands Regiment. In 1975, he assumed command of the SAS in Perth and was then promoted to Colonel as the first Director of the Army's Special Action Forces when he was instrumental in developing the surveillance concept for Northern Australia and as Director of Special Action Forces, and in preparing the development of the Australian Counter terrorist concept and capability. The SAS is highly regarded in United States military and government circles from the President down.
From 1981 to 1983 he headed Australia's national counter-terrorist co-ordination authority. In 1985 he was promoted to Major-General and appointed to command the Army's 1st Division. In 1990 he became Deputy Chief of the General Staff and in 1991 he was appointed Assistant Chief of the General Staff. He was made Governor of Western Australia in 1993 and Governor-General in 2003. He is a Companion in the Order of Australia and is a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, the CVO.
The CVO, incidentally, is the third level of the Royal Victorian Order, the awards in which are given for personal services to the Sovereign and therefore not on ministerial advice. Until a few years ago, the appropriate level of award to a vice regal officer would have been at the first or second level. as Knight or Dame Grand Cross (GCVO), or Knight or Dame Commander (KCVO or DCVO). There seems to have emerged some convention, the source of and authority for which eludes me, that Australians are not to receive knighthoods even those in the personal gift of the Sovereign. The last personal knighthood to an Australian was in 1990, and was richly deserved. This was to Sir David Smith.
And what will happen when next an Australian is honoured with the Garter? It is ridiculous that our Governor-General, our Governors and our Chief Justices at least are not honoured with a knighthood in the Order of Australia.
Returning to matters military, I should not end this no doubt incomplete note on the military exploits of Governors –General without a reference to the much admired Lord Gowrie. As AAP reported in 2003, “no Governor-General can match the record of Brigadier General Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, the 1st Baron Gowrie and Governor-General from 1936 to 1945. As Captain Hore-Ruthven he won a VC in Sudan in 1898 for rescuing an officer who lay wounded "within 50 yards of advancing Dervishes”. He also wore the DSO and Bar as well as the Croix de Guerre, France's highest award for bravery, all received during World War I.