April 26

Queensland republicans question need for Governor and Government House

It seems the Governor of Queensland is being kept waiting for important information which she requested long ago from the government, and some fear her independence is under challenge. And the republican movement  now questions the need for a governor -in a state where the upper house was abolished against the wishes of the people.

 The republican movement has also questioned why the Governor needs to live in Government House.They obviously have not thought through this silliness. Dr Bryce was previously living in Sydney. The government would have had to find her another house.Is the ARM proposing Brisbane have two Government Houses?

The ARM seems unconcerned about the need for a constitution which both works and provides essential guarentees against the misuse of power. So at the federal level, the ARM proposes a process which their own Senator Payne concedes will produce a politician as head of state.

But in the states the ARM is considering abolishing one of the crucial checks and balances on the use of power.

No wonder , in their confusion, they tried to distract us with their campaign to demonise Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

 It was appropriate that one of the sessions at the recent Samuel Griffith Conference related the Queensland Constitution, and peripherally to the Governor of Queensland, Dr Quentin Bryce. (The conference was in Coolangatta, where I took that phone call from the BBC about the Royal wedding, which has so excited the ABC programme Mediawatch.)

The attention of delegates at the conference was drawn to the lead story in the April 2005 edition of The Independent Monthly, "GOVERNMENT KEEPS THE GOVERNOR WAITING". It reported that 18 months after the Governor had sought a report from the government, this had still not been provided.

Her Excellency had sought a situation brief from the Beattie government in October 2003. This was in response to a submission by a former union advocate Mr. Kevin Lindergberg. His submission raised concerns over the fact that a group of Ministers had not been charged with destroying evidence while member of the public , but that a former Baptist minister Douglas Ray Ensbey had been convicted in relation to another case concerning the destruction of evidence, the guillotining of pages recording details of sexual abuse in a young girl’s diary.

The Heiner affair relates to the destruction authorised and instructed to be carried out by the Goss cabinet of evidence of sexual abuse at the John Oxley Detention Centre, including the pack rape of a girl under supervision. The destruction was authorised notwithstanding the fact that the government had been notified that the evidence would be required for legal proceedings which were to be taken out.

Information on the affair may be found at http://lists.archivists.org.au/pipermail/archivists.org.au/aus-archivists/2004-June/004944.html

. The Heiner affair was considered by a federal parliamentary inquiry, which in chapter 2 of its report, recommended the prosecution of those concerned:

http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/laca/crimeinthecommunity/report.htm

More recently, an apparently unrelated item concerning the Governor appeared in the Courier Mail of 15 April, 2005, under the heading: "GOVERNOR’S HOUSE IN UPROAR AS STAFF FORCED OUT".

In this, Des Houghton reported that Government House had been thrown into turmoil by an exodus of long-serving staff and claims of impropriety and political interference. The two most senior staff were reported to have been forced out after personally warning Governor Quentin Bryce she risked compromising her vice-regal position by allowing family members to have private parties and a wedding reception there.

In the wake of the departures, key administrative functions had been taken over by the Premier’s Department, which the reporter said challenged to its independence and long-standing conventions on the separation of powers. The report claimed some staff question Dr Bryce’s personal style and suitability as the Queen’s representative and as Queenslands Head of State, saying she was not known for supporting the monarchy and has allowed the office to be politicised. ( In reply, it should be remembered that on her appointment, the Governor stressed that she is a monarchist)

 The report said Dr Bryce also stands accused, he said, of snubbing more than 50 community groups by refusing to become their patron. But another source said this was a harsh judgment and that Dr Bryce trimmed the patronage list, on advice, after agreeing many groups and clubs were too " low brow ".

The departures raised questions about government interference at Government House, and the independence of the governor in exercising her constitutional powers and responsibilities. The departure of senior staff has led to fresh claims the independence of the Office of Governor has been further compromised. 

One matter raised elsewhere is a report that meetings of the Executive Council are no longer held at Government House but in the executive building where ministers offices are located  Financial accounting and IT work previously handled at Government House are now being sent to the Premier’s Department.

The new Secretary, Ms Bastaja, denied the shift had weakened the autonomy of the office. She said some of the changes were part of a positive Shared Service Initiative (SSI) program slowly being introduced by the Government. She said the Ombudsman’s Office, the Audit Office and the Queensland Parliamentary Service shared corporate services in a "cluster" with the Office of the Governor.

 But The Courier-Mail has confirmed that outgoing Auditor-General had written to the Premier protesting that the scheme was a threat to his department’s independence. Then in the Sunday Mail on 17 April 2005, Mark Alexander and Ainsley Pavey reported growing support for the Governor, including support from the Premier, Peter Beattie and his deputy, Terry Mackenroth as well as the Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg , whose spokesman said:

"We have no reason to doubt her professionalism and have complete confidence in her. We don’t have a problem with her. This woman is no Richard Butler – there is a massive difference between the two. We certainly don’t have any problems with her at all."

 The Australian Republican Movement Queensland Convenor Rod Kendall said the case highlighted the need for debate on whether the states should have governors. Mr Kendall said NSW Governor Professor Marie Bashir lived in a private home, while that state’s Government House was occupied by charities. This is certainly an option in Queensland, he said.

 The ARM forgets that Dr Bryce could not have become Governor if the Government House were not available -her home was in Sydney. And anybody who did not have a house in Brisbane, including those living elsewhere in the state could never become governor.

The work of the NSW Governor has been made difficult because she must frequently move , in slow traffic, between her home, her office and Government House which incidentally,was always open to charities and to the public in the past when the governors lived there. The cost has substantially increased as security must be maintained in all three places and for the frequent transport.

Mr Carr’s decision was ill thought out and he would no doubt change it were it not for the resulting loss of face. And remember what was in his mind when he ejected the governor – he was reported at the time as saying:

" This one’s for Jack Lang!" ( Jack Lang was the NSW premier who was dismissed because he persisted in illegal conduct)

 The removal of the office of governor, which the ARM is contemplating, would of course remove an important check and balance in a state which does not have an upper house. I sent the following letter to the Courier Mail, which, without attempting to judge matters about which I have no more information than appears in the press, tries to recall the general principles relevant to this matter :

"Sir,

In the context of recent reports concerning the Governor, it is important to remember that any incumbent must, for constitutional reasons, be independent and be seen to be independent from the government of the day.

 This means that normally, she will act on advice, but that she is always entitled to assure herself of the legality of what is being proposed. Most importantly, the Governor has at her disposal, for the benefit of Queenslanders, certain powers, sometimes known as the reserve powers, which are exercisable in her discretion. In addition, she enjoys, not for herself, but for the benefit of Queenslanders, the traditional right to warn her ministers , to advise them and to be informed by them.

 It is crucial for her independence that the Governor have the right to use Government House as her domain – a place to receive visitors, ministers of the Crown, and the people of Queensland. This should be her home while she is Governor, and may be used for this purpose by herself and her family.

 Unlike the unacceptable position now prevailing in NSW, this permits the appointment of a Governor who does not have suitable accommodation in Brisbane. It also cost effective. With the Governor living in Government House, the people of Queensland have a visible testimony of the independence of the Governor so that she may always act in their interests as the constitutions intended, that is a check and balance on the use of power.

It is also important that the financial arrangements and staffing arrangements for the Governor ensure that both in fact and perception, the independence of the office of Governor from the control of the government of the day.

Of course the Governor, as with the judges should remain accountable, but this should not become a political tool Queensland has already lost the check and balance of an upper house which is available to all other states and federally.  It is even more important then that the Governor be allowed to play  her constitutional role.

Yours etc"

 

Until next time,

 

David Flint


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