The eviction of the NSW Governor-and future governors- from Government House was, as we always suspected, a power grab by the politicians. As I wrote in a letter to Quadrant published in this column, “Power Grab Confirmed “, on 12 March 2006 , “… the real reason the Governor was thrown out was to diminish the office, and to intimidate the Governor into never using any discretionary reserve powers he or she might have over an errant Premier.”
My letter was provoked by a letter in the March 2006 edition of Quadrant. This was from Mr. Gordon Samuels, who was governor in 1997 when the then Premier, the Hon Bob Carr, decided that governors of NSW should no longer live in Government House. Mr. Samuels objected to the description of this as an eviction in Sir David Smith’s recent book, Head of State
My letter has now been published in the April 2006 edition of Quadrant , along with the following letter from Sir David Smith:
“Sir, Gordon Samuels, former Governor of New South Wales (Letters, March 2006) chooses to criticise what I have written in my book Head of State, but without, as he admits, actually reading the book. He chooses, instead, to base his criticism on the words of the reviewer, Peter Coleman (December 2005). This surely represents a most extraordinary view of evidence by a former holder of judicial office. Fortunately for Samuels, Peter Coleman has represented me fairly and accurately, but a 3-page book review cannot cover all that is contained in a chapter of 28 pages on the role of State Governors, let alone in a book of 358 pages that deals with the Governor-General, the monarchy, the republic and the dismissal.
At pages 173 and 174 I wrote: “There have been a few state Governors who were chosen precisely because they were, or their Premiers thought they were, either deficient in the required personal qualities, or because they could be persuaded to be malleable in their application. … There have also been many state Governors who have followed in the great traditions of the office – men and women who have had the intelligence, the wisdom, the integrity and, if necessary, the courage to uphold their oath of office. … The best way to noble such Governors is to reduce or remove some of the resources and facilities available to them to do their job. … The quickest and most effective way of nobbling a Governor is to evict him from Government House and make his job a part-time one. This was the device used by New South Wales Premier Bob Carr in 1996 …”
Samuels objects to my use of the word “evict” because it implies conflict and because he and his wife strongly supported the Premier’s proposal. Well, let me remind him that the tens of thousands of citizens of New South Wales who staged the largest street protest Sydney has ever seen were certainly in conflict with the Premier and with Samuels. If Samuels and his wife were reluctant to leave their newly-rebuilt home in Bronte, then their sense of duty to the vice-regal office and to the people of New South Wales should have led them to say “No, thank you” to the Premier. And if Samuels himself, for personal reasons, didn’t feel that he was being evicted, it is certainly the case that the State Governor was evicted, which is what I said in my book.
May I also remind him of the other parts of his shabby deal with the Premier, namely, that he would operate with a reduced staff, and would attend few of the ceremonial and entertaining functions that traditionally occupy vice-regal time. In order to fill in the Governor’s spare time, the Premier proposed, and to his shame Samuels agreed, that he would continue to hold, at the same time, the office of chairman of the State’s Law Reform Commission. That either of them thought it possible or proper for a Governor to also hold a statutory office as a public servant beggars belief. The proposal reeked of conflict of interest and impropriety, which should have been obvious to anyone with Samuels’s legal qualifications. This proposal was eventually dropped in the face of fierce public, parliamentary and media protest.
Samuels also objects to my referring to the Governor being dismissed from conducting the ancient ceremony of the official opening of Parliament, and refers to the two occasions when he opened the State Parliament. It may come as a surprise to Samuels but when I use the word “Governor” I am referring to persons other than just himself. At pages 179 and 180 I wrote: “Evicting the Governor from Government House was not the final insult that Bob Carr inflicted on the vice-regal office. One of the grandest and most symbolic ceremonies that is traditionally performed by a Governor-General or Governor is the opening of a new Parliament following an election. On 29 April 2003 Carr took even this away from the Governor. Instead, he had three of his ministers commissioned to perform this ancient ceremony. The man’s arrogance, and his contempt for the office of Governor, knew no bounds, and the heading on The Sydney Morning Herald’s report of the occasion said it all – ‘Stamping on ceremony at the opening of Bob’s house’. And some of us thought Parliament was the people’s house – how silly of us.”
Samuels did the office of Governor and the people of New South Wales a great disservice in acquiescing in the disgraceful antics of Premier Carr, for no better reason than his own personal comfort and convenience, and his attempt to take me to task for describing those antics accurately is pathetic