It is ironic that prominent among those clamouring for the Governor-General to go are precisely those who want to abolish the office. They either want a head of state who is a mere functionary who, alone among those in the civilised world, the Prime Minister would find easier to sack than his cook. Or else they want another politician. Then there are those who fmd this a convenient distraction, as well as those who sniff that this is a way of getting at the Prime Minister. The most reprehensible are those who are guilty of the worst case of double standards in recent times. Bill D'Arcy, a former Queensland MP, was found guilty of 18 charges of abuse, including rape, of children of both sexes and as young as six. These occurred when he was their teacher in a government school. One victim said she was abused in the classroom. The Queensland government has consistently denied liability, so far defending two cases all the way to the High Court. And this was not 10 years ago : the decisions were handed down this year… 2003! Moreover, legislation has not been introduced to sequester D'Arcy's generous superannuation for the benefit of his victims… apparently legal advice is that, without this, it cannot be touched. In all this it is assumed the Queensland government has followed legal advice. Yet the Queensland government is, thanks to its taxpayers, substantially richer than the Anglican Church which is settling claims against it For this reason, we can be sure there will be no move by the Queensland government to appoint a Royal Commission whose terms of reference include its own schools!
The point is that in contrast to Dr Hollingworth, who committed one error of judgment, no-one is calling for the Queensland government to stand down. No-one seems to be arguing for the interests of D'Arcy's victims. No-one is saying that the ministers should be examining their consciences. Why? If the real reason for the campaign is to counter the terrible crime of child abuse – and it is despicable – there would surely be some consistency in the choice of the targets in this campaign. There would not be this rush to make any allegation, however baseless, however exaggerated, or however irrelevant, constantly raised. The answer is that the campaign is obviously tainted.. In fact, those who are really after the PMgave their-game away when the appointment was made: Good choice, they said, appreciating those long years when he spoke for the disadvantaged. But, they chimed in unison, you should not do it. He's a clergyman. That they had never raised this supposed constitutional objection when not one but three such appointments were made, nor when Sir Paul Reeves was appointed New Zealand Governor-General, indicates that they were desperate for a reason to find fault with the appointment No matter whom John Howard had recommended, hisis a not-for-profitpublication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help,
contact us, Collaborative Editors On Line Opinion operates because of the time and efforts put in by our panel of collaborative editors. We need to thank the following organisations for their generosity: The Centre for Independent Studies Oxfam Community Aid Abroad Ozprospect QUT Creative Industries Faculty Australians for a ConstitutionalMonarchy Australian Republican Movement choice would have been attacked. What, I wonder, would they have thought of Gough Whitlam's toying with appointing Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy? The point is that the position of the Governor-General is essentially constitutional. The ceremonial function is important, although I do have difficulty with the proposition that the Governor-General interprets the nation to itself'. Because the executive and legislative powers are so intermingled in the Westminster system, there needs to be a first line of defence against the abuse of that concentration of power.
There is a need for a constitutional referee above politics but also an auditor of the decisions of ministers and the Cabinet which need to be given legal effect in the dayto- day process of government. The people of Canberra may appreciate this more than most. The financial excesses of the Camell government in relation to the Bruce Stadium would not have occurred if the constitutional system forced on them by the Hawke government had properly respected the essence of the Westminster system. A reasonably diligent administrator or governor would have sent that one back. And if the Carrell government had persisted it would have faced the fate of the Lang and Whitlam governments. The ACT obviously needs an administrator… not to open fetes, but as a significant constitutional check and balance. To reiterate, a vice-regal representative's role is essentially constitutional. The Governor-General has to have the strength and will to do his duty. That is the test for holding this high office. That is why a Senate resolution should be of no concern, and that is why a hundred frothing editorials should not sway him. Nor should he be concerned if, say, the Royal Bob-Tailed Cat Society, deigns to dispense with his patronage, no matter how much attention the president and office bearers receive in an unduly excited media, nor how much adulation they then receive from the bien pensants. In these cases he could do no worse than recall the screams of outrage from the bourgeoisie when Bill McKell and later Bill Hayden were elevated to vice-regal status. Had they not working-class origins, and would not know how to behave? Worse, were they not until then politicians : Labor politicians? The then Leaders of the Opposition denounced the appointment. But both transformed themselves into what that great constitutional lawyer, Pat Lane, once called local constitutional monarchs. They rose above politics. They did their duty. They behaved impeccably. So does this Governor-General. One error of judgment in a lifetime of service is no barrier whatsoever to his continuing. It only shows that he is human and imperfect As we all are. And as it was once said : Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.
This article was first published in The Canberra Times on 5 May 2003.
Professor David Flint is Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Authority, Convenor of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy and Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Technology Sydney.