|When the media have a political agenda which becomes an obsession, we should be wary. Because then there is a danger that they will allow the obsession to overrule their duty to inform.
We have previously revealed here the way the Premier of New South Wales Bob Carr and the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald worked together in a campaign about the then Governor, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair and on expelling the Governors of New South Wales from Government House.
The Herald was only one example of a media so obsessed with removing the Crown from the constitution that they lost all sense of proportion, using their news pages and broadcasts to advance their agenda.
An independent and eminent authority, the former British editor Lord Deedes summed up the situation in the London Daily Telegraph on 8 November, 1999:
“I have rarely attended elections in any country, certainly not a democratic one, in which the newspapers have displayed more shameless bias. One and all, they determined that Australians should have a republic and they used every device towards that end.”
Before we go any further, it should be stressed that this was The Australian in the nineties. Under the current editor in chief The Australian has retained its support for transition to a Commonwealth without the Australian Crown. But it has shed the obsessive, almost hysterical support which so marred the newspaper in the nineties.
….editorial dripping with error…
And how out of touch the editor was. He thinks the move was popular; Paul Keating thinks he lost the 1996 election because of it.
When ACM called a demonstration, the people filled Macquarie Street from as far as the speakers on the platform outside Sydney Hospital could see.
The editorial reads as follows in italics, with comments underlined:
The measures taken by the NSW Premier, Mr Carr, to modernise the State governorship are appropriate and deserve to be emulated by other State governments.
(Not one state followed New South Wales. Queensland’s Premier Beattie assured ACM’s Kerry Jones that this would not happen)
…preparing for a republic…
Mr Carr is removing the unnecessary trappings of a bygone age, (what trappings?) making the governor’s office more businesslike, (it put the Governor into a series of traffic jams ) and preparing NSW for a post-referendum transition to an Australian republic.
(Which, notwithstanding the support of The Australian and almost all of the press and most of the other commercial and public media, and about two thirds of the politicians, was defeated in the 1999 landslide)
These are welcome moves. (Welcome only to the republican elites. And when they saw the reaction, certainly not welcome to the caucus or cabinet, nor to Federal Labor. Indeed, Mr. Paul Keating blamed his loss of the 1996 election on this.)
…popular decision says The Australian…
The arrangements Mr Carr announced yesterday when appointing the new State governor, Mr Gordon Samuels, are purely administrative.
(Bob Carr later revealed that he planned to neutralise the reserve powers) They are highly symbolic,( not according to Bob Carr) save money ( they cost millions of dollars more ) and will be popular with the public.
(Popular? Sydney was to see one of the largest and most peaceful demonstrations against this. Both the caucus and cabinet, who had not been warned about the decision, were unnerved. )
..usurping constitutional change…
Mr Carr has made his republican commitment very plain. But he is not seeking to usurp or pre-empt the processes for achieving constitutional change.
Constitutional changes to limit the governor’s powers were in fact made last year, when the NSW electorate approved a referendum to establish fixed parliamentary terms and define methods of effecting a change of government without need for an early election.
(Four year fixed terms did not produce the better governance promised by the republican politicians and media. There is no doubt that the people feel they were misled by the politicians and the media over the benfits of four year fixed terms.)
Mr Carr’s changes do not impinge on the governor’s remaining constitutional powers.
The governor-designate will have a reduced ceremonial and community role, (he didn’t) and be housed more modestly.
However, neither his title nor his constitutional role are affected
( But his subsequently declared intention was to do precisely this.)
This is not an attempt by Mr Carr to achieve a republic by stealth.
…separate Australian Crown…
But what it should do is encourage debate about the future of governorships within a republic. The minimalist republican model favoured by the Federal Government – and this newspaper – suggests State governors would exist under a republican federation, but their powers would be vested in the office of governor rather than the British monarchy.
(The powers are vested in the Australian Crown, which the High Court justices have found was an entirely different institution from the British Crown. So much so a senator lost her place)
These include the duties of ensuring that governments act in accordance with their constitutional obligations and overseeing the proper formation and dissolution of governments based on their holding a majority of seats in the lower house of a State Parliament.
(But Mr.Carr later admitted he wanted to neutralise the crucial constitutional reserve powers)
Mr Carr is right to have taken the opportunity to comprehensively reassess and update the governor’s office in the course of appointing a new governor.
Opinion polls have indicated very few people have any real knowledge of what the governor’s job entails.
( At least one poll was taken by The Sydney Morning Herald in complicity with the Premier in his plans about the Governor)
Making the office more relevant to the modern age,(it did not) and getting rid of the vice-regal pomp,( what pomp?) is an appropriate way to bring the office closer to the people ( there is no evidence of this) – and, in turn, encourage the electorate to become better informed about the constitutional issues( again there is no evidence of this).
…part time Governor…
(This should be read in the light of his later admission) Mr Samuels, a former judge in the NSW Supreme Court and Court of Appeal has been appointed for four years instead of the usual five. He replaces Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, who retires on Australia Day. Mr Samuels, 72, most recently conducted the 1994 federal inquiry into ASIS.
In a break with tradition, the governor-designate will not have to give up his present positions, including the chairmanship of the NSW Law Reform Commission.
(This was abandoned when it was realised this would be unconstitutional)
Also, for the first time since 1837, the new governor will not take up residence in Government House.
Instead he will be accommodated in a government office suite named after Henry Parkes, one of the founding fathers of federation ( as if he were a public servant answerable to the politicians).
The governor’s revised role continues to confer some ceremonial duties on the position, such as officiating at the opening of parliament and attending civic functions on Australia Day and Anzac Day.