Until Prime Minister John Howard’s surprising adoption of what may be called the “Eddie Ward doctrine” in relation to vice regal appointments, many of our self described “passionate” republicans must have been absolutely terrified when they woke up on Friday morning the 29th of July, 2007 to the media reports that Prince William was interested in becoming Governor-General.
For those readers who are from other countries, or are too young to know who Eddie Ward was, it is generally agreed that he was a particularly vindictive left wing Australian politician. His leader, that great Prime Minister John Curtin, called him a “bloody ratbag.” Indeed, Curtin broke down on one occasion as a result of a particularly vicious verbal attack by Ward, probably the worst of many. Ward even engaged in fisticuffs in disputes in the Labor Caucus. He once described the founder of the Liberal Party Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, one of Australia’s greatest prime ministers, as a “posturing individual with the scowl of Mussolini, the bombast of Hitler, and the physical proportions of Goering.” Needless to say, Sir Robert, by far the greatest parliamentarian the nation has ever seen or indeed likely to see, did not break down. Sir Robert was made of sterner stuff.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the journalist Edgar Holt once (perceptively) described Ward having the “air of an East Sydney Robespierre, a pea-green incorruptible with an Australian accent.” (The murderous French revolutionary ideologue, Robespierre, was known as the “sea green incorruptible”).
This brings me to the “Eddie Ward doctrine” of vice regal appointments. This is recorded in the minutes of a Federal Cabinet meeting on 23 November 1943. (In response to those readers who wonder how someone like Eddie Ward could become a Minister of the Crown, that is what you get when you let the caucus elect the cabinet. The British Labor Party, incidentally, does not follow this practice.) Ward spoke strongly against John Curtin’s recommendation of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester as the Governor-General to replace Lord Gowrie. Cabinet sensibly rejected his views. But now, according to media reports, for example, Brad Norrington in The Australian on 29 June,2007, John Howard responded:"I do think the practice of having a person who is an Australian in every way and a long-term and permanent resident of this country is a practice I would not like to see altered."
But this is exactly the doctrine espoused by Eddie Ward, rejected by the Labor War Cabinet and without any doubt whatsoever by Sir Robert Menzies and the Coalition. Yet Eddie Ward has now reached out from the grave and determined how the Australian constitutional system will work. Actually, it was unnecessary for John Howard to say anything in relation to the socialite journalist’s book other than to say that “The position is being filled superbly by Major General Michael Jeffery, thank you very much. Next question.”
But he didn’t.
Now as to the condition of having Australian citizenship, the only conclusion we can make about that is that the politicians seem intent on devaluing it. A former Labor Minister of Immigration, the Hon.Chris Hurford says that both sides have abandoned proper standards in selecting immigrants, a point we took up in our submission of November, 2006 on the proposed citizenship test. This failing was amply demonstrated recently when the cabinet papers of the Fraser government were released. In “Among the Barbarians: the Dividing of Australia”, (Random House, 1998) Paul Sheehan argued, convincingly, that during the Hawke and Keating governments, the Labor Party had at times used the immigration selection process to provide electoral fodder for Labor. Mr Howard’s republican predecessor, Paul Keating, still refuses to explain his role in clearing the path for the then to be deported Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly to stay here and become a citizen, as we noted here on 22 November, 2006. Just this year Parliament has once again made it even easier to become an Australian citizen. And if citizenship is a technical barrier to vice-regal appointment, the Danes have a solution. Immediately before Princess Mary married Crown Prince Christian, she was made a Danish citizen – by Act of Parliament.
And any way, as for non-Australian appointments, I remember being intrigued as a boy by a proposal reported in the press that Madam Pandit, (Vijaya Lakshmi Nehru Pandit ) the sister of the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was being considered for appointment as the Australian Governor-General. Nothing came of this, and she continued as a diplomat, being appointed Governor of Maharashtra in 1962. But what an interesting appointment that would have been, and how superb it would have been for the Commonwealth of Nations.
But to return to Prince William: there was no need for the Prime Minister to say he would never recommend the Prince. There was no need to announce that as a reaction to a socialite journalist’s book. Why allows the world’s media to conclude the Prince is unwelcome here? There is after all no rule against such an appointment. The Prince is in line to become the King of Australia and as such he will be Australian.
The media also reported the bon mots of Mr Kevin Rudd, the Leader, who, let us recall, the Leader of Her Majesty’s Australian Opposition. (That serves to remind him and all politicians that they are under the Crown, as trustee for the people, and that they are not our masters.) Mr. Rudd reacted to the suggestion in jest, saying: "I think it would be party, party, party out at Yarralumla, wouldn’t it?" Mr Rudd then observed, gratuitously: "There is a great place for British royals, and it’s in Britain." He added a curious remark – that Australians are better at exporting royals, such as the Crown Princess of Denmark, rather than importing them. This may not have helped Mr. Rudd. One reader of this column wrote to me to say that he had had a call "from a ‘swinging voter’ saying that they will be ‘sticking with Mr Howard’ because of Mr. Rudd’s dismissive comments about Prince William becoming Governor-General and the way Rudd laughed it off in such an arrogant fashion and declared he was a republican."
In any event I think most Australians will be disappointed by the way in which both political leaders reacted to the ramblings of a socialite journalist in a book she is determined to launch into the best seller lists. The standing of the politicians was however saved by the much attacked Health Minister, Tony Abbott, whom News Limited reported as saying: "I think it’s great that Prince William wants to be involved with Australia, I think that the monarchy has been very important to this country. I think it’s very good that we’ve got a connection with the Crown and I’m pleased that Prince William seems to take the Australian connection seriously."