The story by the journalist Tina Brown that Prince William, second in line to be King of Australia, would like one day to be Governor- General has flashed across the world. If the Prince were to be appointed, after the predictable initial campaign against him by certain politicians, the appointment would be enormously popular and would attract world wide attention. According to the News Limited poll on 29 June, 2007 at 1015AM, of those who want to retain the position, 82% say he would be great in the role. I was asked my views about it on the Virginia Trioli programme on ABC Local Radio 702, which is Sydney’s second rating programme. The first caller was vehemently opposed but said she was in such an apoplectic state she could not give coherent reasons against the appointment. All other callers were strongly in favour, including one who said she was not a royalist.
So it would be very popular, but it won’t happen. Protocol requires that any proposal be discussed informally with the Palace. I expect that the advice to the Prime Minister would be not to make any such recommendation.
This is for two reasons. First, it would require bipartisan support, and that will not be forthcoming. This is despite the fact that the greatest Labor Prime Minister, and one of the nation’s greatest, John Curtin, made two recommendations of members of the Royal Family. The second reason is the politicians’ disgraceful behaviour over the use of the reserve power to dismiss a prime minister who behaves illegally or unconstitutionally. Both the dismissed prime minister, who in opposition had frequently tried to block supply, and the principal beneficiaries, turned on both the Governor-General and the constitutional system. (On this see Sir David Smith’s excellent book, Head of State) And as I mentioned in the recent ACM monograph on the Crown, the politicians’ misbehaviour has turned the reserve power to dismiss into a wasting asset. (I do propose a solution which keeps the power but makes the need to use it less likely)
An appointment as Governor-General of Canada would however seem technically possible. A bi-partisan appointment is feasible, but not guaranteed. Canada does not seem to harbour so many opportunist republican politicians. And the Canadian Senate is nominated and therefore a less powerful house.
The first Australian-born Governor-General was Sir Isaac Isaacs. King George V did not resist his appointment because he was Australian, as is so often suggested. It was because he believed that a Governor-General should not be previously involved in Australian affairs, in brief, he should have no baggage. In later years British Governors-General were still appointed, all with the most distinguished war records. Two had been awarded the VC and two the MC. Sir William (“Bill”) Slim was one of our most popular Governor-Generals. In the post war period, there was a proposal that the sister of the Indian Prime Minister, Madame Pandit be appointed. This did not proceed.
The appointment of Prince William would be very popular, and attract international attention. Unfortunately, the disgraceful, appalling behaviour of some of our leading politicians – all republican – has ensured that it won’t happen. Imagine how they would behave if they controlled the presidency.