May 7

Vice regal republicans

The announcement that The Queen has appointed Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce as South Australia’s next Governor was well received. Federal Finance Minister and Senator for South Australia, the Hon. Nick Minchin, the Leader of HM South Australian Opposition, Mr. Martin Hamilton-Smith and Dr David Phillips, SA Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy welcomed the appointment. Dr. Phillips said: “I congratulate Rear Admiral Kevin Scarce on his appointment as the next SA Governor.  I wish him well as he presides over the SA Executive Council and checks legislation before giving his assent, as well as providing community support and leadership.  Much of his work will be unseen and unsung – but it is vital.”  The Premier, the Hon. Mike Rann announced the appointment after notifying the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and both the Federal and State Leaders of the Opposition. Rear Admiral Scarce will be sworn in on 8 August 2007, and will succeed Her Excellency, Mrs.Marjorie Jackson-Nelson, who retires on 31 July 2007.
According to The Advertiser, Mr.Rann said that the Rear Admiral was a man of the “utmost integrity and dignity" with "a sharp intellect, affable, good humoured and with the ability to connect with people from all walks of life". The new Lieutenant Governor is to be Mr. Hieu Van Le, chairman of the SA Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission. He came to Australia as a refugee from Vietnam in 1977.  He will be the first Vietnamese born Australian to be appointed to a vice regal position.
According to reports in News Corporation newspapers, Rear Admiral Scarce is a republican. He said  that it is up to the people to determine when, and in what form, Australia would become a republic, which is of course true. And as Dr. Phillips said, “He will not be the first republican Governor.  In 1989 Bill Hayden, whom he described as a "fierce republican", was sworn in as Governor-General of Australia.  Ten years later he was among those strongly supporting the winning "no" vote in the 1999 republic referendum. It may be that Governor-designate Kevin Scarce, after more consideration, may come to the same conclusion.”
The point Dr Phillips makes is very important. But even before he has a chance to re-assess his views with the benefit of experience, once he is sworn in, Rear Admiral Scarce will become the representative in South Australia of the nation’s  and the state’s oldest political institution, one which offers leadership beyond politics. In that position, he will be expected not to make comments which can be seen as politically partisan. In fact this would be considered to be unconstitutional. Of course proposals to change the constitution are usually intensely debated and undoubtedly political.  
There are a number of reasons why those in vice regal office, and those who have accepted this great honour and are waiting to be sworn in, should follow the wise precedent set by The Queen and constantly and minutely observed by her – never to enter  the republican debate.  Her Majesty has behaved impeccably in this regard, and she sets an example to all her viceroys. As the representative of The Queen, a governor is expected to honour his or her oath of allegiance to Her Majesty. Partisan comment on the republican debate will only cause unnecessary speculation about that allegiance, and will immediately put on guard a large number of citizens who are especially loyal to the Throne. The Governor’s role is, after all, to unite and not to divide. Speculating about some distant, vague republic is as inappropriate as making partisan comments on taxation, industrial law, nuclear energy or any of the other issues on the political agenda. A governor should be as wary of answering questions from the media about a republic as he or she would be about any other issue on the political agenda. Indeed, ACM believes that governors should in office have no other agenda than fulfilling their role as best they can – it is not for them to make policy or to have a public view on this. For these reasons the Governor –designate’s observations reported by News Corporation were  unfortunate. He said: "It is not the most critical issue on the agenda at the moment. When the time comes, I will be supporting Australia becoming a republic."  This is as inappropriate as saying, for example, that he will be supporting the reform, repeal or retention of the GST, or of the workplace legislation or the introduction or proscription of nuclear energy.
So just as his term is about to begin, Rear Admiral Scarce has unfortunately struck the wrong note. This is not the first occasion when a governor-designate has fallen into this trap. The most inappropriate was when Mr. Richard Butler “verballed” The Queen about her views on Australia becoming a republic. More recently a governor-designate has said a republic is inevitable.  Now it  is possible that the republican issue will be revived by the next prime minister whoever he or she may be. This could be during the next five or ten years which would of course coincide which the Rear Admiral Scarce’s term or a possible second term. As Governor of South Australia, and with the usual dormant commission to act as Administrator of the Commonwealth of Australia in the absence of the Governor-General, it is unthinkable that he could lend his support to one side in apolitical debate. And by just indicating this intention now he has immediately created division where he should ensure unity.

We have previously suggested that if they are ever in doubt as to what they should do, vice regal representatives should ask themselves what the Sovereign whom they represent would do in similar circumstances. Her record is impeccable .It they follow her example, they will have no problems.


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