November 23

Her Excellency descends into politics

It is a sad fact that as she approaches the end of her term as Governor-General, Quentin Bryce has blotted her copybook.

 It will be said she has damaged the institution. It is too robust for any long term damage. Her Excellency has damaged herself. She is now a divisive figure.  

By convention, and one would have thought commonsense, viceroys must be – and must appear to be – above politics.


By her descent into the political arena the Governor-General has, in a most spectacular way, breached that admirable rule.

This was not by way of some inadvertent throwaway line to a journalist as she once did when she was returning to Australia.

Her intervention, her descent into the political arena, was carefully considered and although subtly worded, was as clear as day.

It was in the course of a Boyer Lecture, an antipodean version of the BBC Reith Lectures. These are, we assume, never given without great preparation.

The inappropriateness of this  can be seen by a simple comparison. Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth II even considering giving the Reith Lectures, much less including some political slant ?

Contrast Her Majesty's carefully considered Christmas broadcasts and addresses on Commonwealth Day, occasions when The Queen speaks her own mind. They are always interesting but they are never political. After all we have enough politicians to do that ably assisted by a vast commentariat.



…breach of convention…




Let us accept that the Governor-General staunchly believes in same sex marriage and even on Australia becoming a politicians' republic. On the latter we do wonder why anyone ever accepts the position of representing the very institution they wish to pull down. Let us also accept the fact that  she is itching to tell the nation of her views.

Now common sense would tell you that when Her Excellency was approached by the ABC, she should have accepted the invitation but suggested that it be after she stepped down. This could have been as early as the 2014 Boyer Lectures.

Instead she decided to accept the invitation and, extraordinarily, to enter into the political arena in her very first lecture.

 Notwithstanding all protocol and  convention, she let it be known that her vision was for a country "where people are free to love and marry they choose and where perhaps my friends, one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation's first head of state."

This ignored  the obvious fact that Her Excellency is held out to be Australia's head of state, and that she has often travelled and received the dignities and respect as such.

There is sound legal argument to indicate that according to international law, she is an Australian head of state.

Whether or not that is a good description of her constitutional role seems to have been settled in 1907 by a unanimous High Court of Australia – a bench of founding fathers whom you would have thought would have known what the Constitution was about.  

They were quite happy with describing the Governor-General as the ''constitutional head of the Commonwealth''.




The problem now is that in breaching protocol and convention, Her Excellency has now become a divisive figure.

 A politicians' republic, is now recording very low levels of support, lower than in the landslide defeat of the 1999 republican referendum.

 It is clear that another referendum on whatever model the republicans propose would be soundly defeated.

Even the trick of holding a plebiscite with a blank cheque question is clearly doomed.

The proof is that passionate republican Bob Brown did not even raise it in his list of demands to Julia Gillard when she formed the minority government in 2010.    

The Governor-General  recently offered her resignation because of any perceived conflict flowing from the fact that her daughter is married to the Lead of the Opposition.

Mr. Abbott declined to advise Her Majesty to accept that.  But did she warn him that she had decided to speak on political issues ?  

Ms Bryce may now be applauded by a diminishing  band of republicans. But by so breaching convention, she has seriously and retrospectively damaged her record and standing in the community.  

The question is how can she possibly represent that crucial institution in our Constitution, the Australian Crown when she not only dreams of and hopes for its demise, she announced all that to the nation?




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