The Governor-General’s observations on the constitutional system (reported here in “Our constitutional guarantor,” 14 June 2008) were of course to be misinterpreted by some republicans.
Are they inventive or are they just careless?
This is not surprising. They have waged a completely unjustified campaign against him almost as soon as he was appointed.
This only assures the public that anything they say should be taken with a grain of salt.
Incidentally, to the tired criticism that he is unknown, the Governor-General was absolutely correct when he pointed out the media can't have it both ways. Newspapers like The Daily Telegraph cannot largely ignore his views and then criticise his low profile: Steve Lewis and Ian McPhedran, “Whiff of scandal haunts G-G,” Daily Telegraph, 25 June 2008.
(The latter piece contains a story about a whispering campaign in 1991 about a leak. No evidence whatsoever was ever found, and the Governor-General, then a serving officer was unaware of the allegation. This means that the campaign was so unjustified the police did not even interview him.)
But returning to the current matter, Malcolm Hazell, the Governor-General’s indefatigable Official Secretary, has pointed out what the Head of State actually said, not the misrepresentations some republicans have slipped into the letters pages of the newspapers.
He has also confirmed our interpretation of that part of the Herald interview which said the Governor – General had revealed he had "sent back" about 15 pieces of “legislation or items requiring his assent.
"It might be that I need more information or I think the thing could be better expressed or it’s not clear in its intent. Invariably departments and ministers correct it. Sometimes they'll withdraw it," he said
We said in this column,” Our constitutional guarantor,” 14 June 2008, that it was clear that the Governor-General was referring to subordinate legislation. He was not referring to bills requiring Royal Assent but to matters coming to him from Ministers of the Crown in the Executive Council.
Even if one former head of two government departments and former chief of staff to a Leader of the Opposition did not understand this when he attacked the Governor-General, Royal Assent to bill is not given in the Executive Council ( see this column, “Republicans Blunder Again!” 14 January 2004)
Surely the name, Executive Council would indicate l even to an uninformed senior public servant that.
…and now for the facts…
In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald published on 17 June, 2008, the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, Malcolm Hazell writes:
“Contrary to the claims of some letter-writers, the Governor-General did not say Australia should never have a directly elected president. As he has done on a number of occasions, he said it was appropriate that we consider better ways of governing ourselves; however, it would be beneficial in such debates if there were a wider understanding of how our current system operates.
“The Governor-General said there could be the potential for conflict if a popularly elected president held a firm view on an issue that was contrary to that held by the prime minister.
“He did not say he had sent back 15 pieces of legislation – he was referring to "items" submitted to the Executive Council.
“ Ministers have to take responsibility for the advice they give; it is the role of the governor-general to ensure the advice has been framed with full regard for all relevant factors and that the action recommended is consistent with the constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth.”