Sir David Smith is surely the authority on all matters viceregal. Republicans would be well advised to consult him before they put pen to paper-that is, if they do not want to have egg on their face. In the November 2003 issue of Quadrant, Sir David reveals how, repeatedly, a former Chief Justice of Australia got it wrong when he tried to demean and diminish the office of Governor General. And in two recent published letters to the press, Sir David takes to task a former Secretary of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who did not seem to understand what the Executive Council does. This doesn't surprise me at all-not so long ago a leading legal academician wrote in an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald that the Governor General is a 'rubber stamp'. Another wrote that the 1967 referendum gave Aborigines the vote. And a Senator and party leader in the 1999 referendum campaign said Canada was a republic!
Sir David also corrects another commentator who put words into the Governor -General's mouth, words he never in fact used. These are the two letters, as published:
A Letter to the Editor, The Australian,31 October 2003:
The Governor-General's Official Secretary, Malcolm Hazell, (Letters, 29/10) has corrected some of the errors upon which Michael Costello, (Opinion, 24/10) based his extraordinary attack on the Governor-General. The only thing Costello got right was his reference to Major-General Michael Jeffery as our own head of state. Costello was a Commonwealth public servant for 25-five years ; he rose to the top of his profession as the head of two departments of state ; yet he never learned what the federal Executive Council does or how laws passed by Parliament are enacted. How is it possible to make a career serving our system of government without knowing how that system works? When the Governor-General gives the Royal assent to legislation, he is alone at his desk. Yet Costello was able to describe in some detail a non-existent discussion between the Governor-General and ministers who were not present. Costello then gave his readers a farrago of inaccuracies about some of Major- General Jeffery's speeches and asked whether it is the role of a governor-general to appear to be monitoring ministers, or to speak publicly on politically contentious issues in a way that is in danger of appearing partisan. Excuse me? I thought that genie was let out of the bottle in 1996.Or is vice-regal freedom of speech limited to governors-general who say only those things that members of the commentariat approve of and want to hear?
Sir David Smith Mawson, ACT
A Letter to the Editor,The Australian Financial Review, l 9 November 2003:
G-G critics are on the wrong track In their haste to continue with an open season on John Howard-appointed governors-general, some commentators, having made up their minds, do not want to be confused by the facts. Michael Costello, former secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, criticised Governor-General Michael Jeffery for the way in which he gives the royal assent to bills passed by parliament, when they come before the Federal Executive Council (The Australian, October 24).Costello gave details of alleged conversations between the Governor-General and ministers to illustrate the extent of the Governor-General's interference. But the Federal Executive Council does not deal with the royal assent, and ministers are not present when the Governor-General gives it.Now John Quiggin, in "Our model constitution", (AFR, November 6), has followed suit. Quiggin has accused the Governor-General of politicising his position by "endorsing a policy of pre-emptive military action". I have searched Major-General Jeffery's speeches, and all I have found is a call for "co-operative interventionist action by the UN with a view to pre-empting bloodbaths". That is the very opposite of what Quiggin has illeged. Quiggin calls for a directly elected governor-general or president. Direct election of the head of state has been so roundly condemned by intelligent republicans such as a former governor general, a former prime minister, a former chief justice of the High Court, and several legal and political academics of distinction, among many others, that it requires no further comment from me.
David Smith,Mawson, ACT.
Powerful stuff,aren't they?