It is of course improper for Governor-General or Governors to speak out on political matters. It is not only divisive, it is incompatible with the vice regal office which must remain above politics.
The consequences can be serious. When a Governor of Queensland, Sir Colin Hannah, publicly criticised the Whitlam government, advice to The Queen for his removal was seriously considered. At a Brisbane Chamber of Commerce lunch in October, 1975, Sir Colin said the government's "fumbling ineptitude" had put Australia in "its present economic state."
His "dormant" or standing commission, which State governors normally hold to act as the administrator of the Commonwealth in the place of the governor-general, was revoked by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, E G Whitlam who discussed the matter with the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. When the Premier, Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, later proposed a second term for Sir Colin, this was denied.
The current Governor-General and the Victorian Governor should be in no doubt that the
principle of non- involvement in political matters which applied to Sir Colin applies equally to them.
But the editor of The Age (5/4) is irresponsibly egging the Governor-General and the Victorian Governor on to do the sort of thing for which Sir Colin was condemned. The editor's only caveat is that they make their political comments “carefully.”
The Governor-General, Ms. Quentin Bryce, has gone even further. Not content with enthusiastically calling for the codification of the reserve powers, she has called for the dissolution of the Australian Crown which she has sworn on the Bible to serve.
She has declared to the media that moving to some unknown politicians’ republic is “part of the development of our democracy in future decades." We shudder to think of what other democratic developments in our democracy will next be prescribed from Yarralumla.
The Australian Governor-General’s comments were seized on with approval not only by Australia’s republican movement, but also by Canada’s. The issue is not seriously on the Canadian political agenda, but Ms’ Bryce unprecedented descent into the political arena has raised the otherwise unknown profile of Canada’s small band of republicans.
…”acceptable” vice regal political comment…
This sort of blatant, unacceptable politicking is of course totally –totally – inconsistent with holding a vice regal office. But The Age says it’s alright because both are “dignified, progressive, compassionate people.” They are people “who walk their own talk.”
This almost impenetrable language means one thing. Vice regal political speech in accordance with The Age’s opinions is fine, and indeed, ought to be encouraged.
But what happens if, as The Age’s state political editor Paul Austin (2/4) asked, the next governor speaks out in favour of, say, capital punishment or against abortion?
The Age will of course hit the roof and denounce the governor.
Rather than encouraging them to “walk their own talk” perhaps The Age should remind them of St Paul’s advice to “walk worthy of the vocation to which ye are called.” (Ephesians 4:1)
Incidentally, The Age did not publish the following letter “defending” the Governor, according to Peter Coleman in The Spectator (27/4) who said the letter was “ about the Quentin Bryce-like political partisanship of the governor of Victoria, Professor David de Kretser.”
Paul Austin (Comment & Debate, 2 April) is unfair to the distinguished medical scientist who represents the Queen in Victoria. His bravery in speaking forcefully on climate change for which he has no qualifications as physicist or mathematician should be applauded. That he further risks his reputation by taking on the economists and politicians who doubt that any early action by Australians can be helpful to Australia is beyond praise. When we enjoy the right to vote for governor in the republic of Victoria we will remember David de Kretser with special fondness.
…the Victorian Governor has form ….
From the very day his appointment was announced, the Victorian Governor, Professor David de Kretser, has had form in entering the political arena. The interesting thing is that I cannot recall any former Australian politician, Labor or Coalition, who has become a viceroy ever behaving like this.
Anyway, His Excellency is a passionate proponent of the theory of anthropogenic climate change. He is entitled to be that, and he is certainly not alone there. He says a week hardly goes by where he does not put it in a speech. This extends to policy, telling people not only to accept the theory, but how to behave and how society should be ordered.
This goes far beyond such things as turning lights off for Earth Hour. As the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt (2/4) says, His Excellency is angry with those who live in large houses, the sort we see in the new suburbs around our cities. He especially dislikes those with a tennis court, but curiously has not apparently yet condemned swimming pools.
The Governor even entered the last federal election campaign, but he probably would not think he did. He criticised the federal government’s citizenship test weeks before the election.
….The choice: be silent or go into politics….
Where will this march by the Governor-General and the Victorian Governor into the political arena end? There two ways. One is by vice regal silence. The South Australian Governor Rear Admiral Scarce seems to have chosen this path after his unfortunate foray into republicanism on his appointment, when he unbelievably said that “when the time comes, I will be supporting Australia becoming a republic."
It is said around Adelaide that he now realises this was an error. Did he not know what sort of position he was accepting?
The alternative to vice regal silence is to stand for election. If the Governor-General and the Victorian Governor keep making political comments, they will each become a divisive figure. Their positions will become impossible.
The editor unwisely sees some advantage in encouraging this vice regal behaviour for The Age’s republican agenda, at least while their opinions are identical to his. This agenda is incidentally still conducted, incongruously, under The Age’s variation of the Royal Coat of Arms. Why doesn’t the editor have the courage of his convictions and announce that the banner is to go?
The reason is the editor knows his readers would not like it. He knows that the public are not at all interested in republican change, which means of course they do not want it.
“Republicanism,” he grudgingly admits “might be a mumble in the national conversation but in their own way de Kretser and Bryce are showing us what an Australian president might be like.”
…The Age playing with fire….
Not only is this a marvellous argument for constitutionalists to wheel out if there is a vote on some unknown politicians’ republic, the Age's recipe is dangerous. The danger in The Age’s imprimatur for the vice regal entry into Age approved political commentary is this.
Politics just do not end with commentary. A president or elected governor will not only talk. At some stage one of them will act. He or she will act within the vast powers of the viceroy now constrained by conventions which are enforceable. Then they will all do it.
If Australians were to fall for The Age’s campaign to adopt some as yet unknown politicians’ republic, they would be putting in place a whole new team of eighteen or so additional politicians in positions made politically powerful through the removal of our oldest institution, the Crown. They would thus ensure the sort of instability other unhappy countries have known, with a consequent decline in our country.
By then the editor will have retired, perhaps to another country, and if asked will no doubt say it’s not his fault. No wonder readers are falling away in droves.
Fortunately on all indications, the Australian people are too smart to fall for this.