23 September 2019

Who should be the model of a modern Governor-General?

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Is it time to appoint someone completely different to stroll across the green lawn at Yarralumla? File photo.

The announcement that Australia’s next Governor-General will be the current NSW governor, David Hurley, met with a mixed response. While there’s little doubt that General Hurley is a steady, experienced pick for the vice-regal role, there’s also a sense that yet another middle-aged man with a military background is a less than inspiring choice. So what do we want and need from a 21st-century Governor-General?

Past choices suggest that the perennial safe pair of hands has been a priority, but so has the chance to do someone a political favour (see Hayden, Bill). For decades following Federation, our vice-regal responsibilities were allocated to one British aristocrat after another, the last being Viscount de L’Isle.

Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first Australian born Governor-General, but locals were not regularly entrusted with the role until the mid-sixties. Since then, it’s been a steady roll call of ex-military officers, former politicians and lawyers. And of course, just one woman: Quentin Bryce, herself a former legal academic.

What does this speak to about Australia and Australians? It’s worth recalling that under the constitution, the Governor-General holds substantial powers albeit rarely exercised, at least since 1975. But beyond the legal responsibilities, the Governor-General’s role now more than ever is, surely, to embody some kind of national leadership that sits above the muck of politics.

We need someone smart and capable, but also someone inspirational. Someone who connects with the spirit of the nation as well as the letter of the law. Someone who speaks to the rich stew that constitutes 21st century Australia.

That’s arguably much better embodied by the recent State appointments. In South Australia, His Excellency Hieu Van Le is a former Vietnamese refugee who served as chair of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission and as a senior investigator and manager with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (he has two sons, named after cricketers Sir Donald Bradman and Kim Hughes).

The longest-serving Governor of NSW was Dame Marie Bashir, a GP and psychiatrist whose career included a strong focus on child and adolescent mental health issues and Aboriginal health care. The current administrator of the Northern Territory, Vicki O’Halloran, received an AM for her services to disability.

So why, then, does the PM of the day read from the same old script when appointing a new GG? Without a doubt, the great majority of Governors-General have been good people, serving conscientiously. But would it be so hard to find others, equally well qualified, equally capable, whose life stories make a bigger, bolder statement about who we are now?

These are fraught times politically, but Australia remains a safe, prosperous and happy place for the vast majority of us. We are no longer colonial vassals, although for the time being at least our ties to the Crown and the Commonwealth remain, and so does the role.

So why then do we reflexively seek out middle-aged people with the habit of command? What are we frightened might happen across the verdant lawns at Yarralumla if someone different had the Queen’s commission? And why is it so hard to break the mould?

Who do you think should be the Governor-General?


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Blen_Carmichael7:25 am 31 Dec 18

“There’s also a sense that yet another middle-aged man with a military background is a less than inspiring choice.”

Section 76 of the Constitution: “The command in chief of the naval and military forces of the Commonwealth is vested in the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative.” Yes, clearly a distinguished military leader is less than inspiring for this role. Seriously.

HiddenDragon6:18 pm 30 Dec 18

It is surprising that a Government which is so far behind in the polls missed the opportunity to make a GG appointment which might, just, have appealed to some of the people not currently planning to vote for them. Perhaps our current PM has distant, childhood memories of this ABC tele-movie which ends with the demise of a PM and a military-takeover (better to have them inside the tent etc……..)


I agree that we need more diversity in the position. I mean let’s start with the ageism, how many people under 40 have been governor general?

I mean if we want someone to be “representative” and all.

This would be far more representative than the authors preferred appointees of a Vietnamese refugee (188 000 Australian population), an 88 year old woman or a disability worker.

Perhaps we should hold a national lottery to see who gets the spot.

You’ve got to embrace the diversity.

Capital Retro3:45 pm 30 Dec 18

I doubt if anyone under 40 would have the wisdom (as distinct from knowledge) to serve effectively in the position.

Note there have never been any High Court judges under 40 years old. The position is more about representing the Queen more than identifying with her Australian subjects.

Obviously, your last two points are satirical.

You’re just trapped by your subconscious biases that don’t allow you to see the positives of a young GG.

Diversity is all that matters.

Capital Retro11:18 am 31 Dec 18

I am unaware of any subconscious biases that I am trapped by (whatever that means) but I do possess a lot of common sense and good judgement which I didn’t have when I was under 40 years old.

I suppose what you are trying to say is someone like Prince Harry should hold the position?

God Save The Queen.

I see you’ve recently completed your compulsory unit in work place Diversity?
Beware the SJW.

I agree Some diversity in the appointments would be good to see. We have managed to broaden our national awards and state appointments to include people of different backgrounds, cultures, genders etc. it is a pity that our polititicians feel that this can’t apply to the highest appointment (altough I suspect there are other areas where this also applies).

The term “middle aged” is generous however (defined as 45-65 years) given all 5 of the most recent appointees, and 7 of the 12 Australian’s (since 1965) exceeded this age at appointment (Sir Deane just scrapes in), all but 3 were older than 65 years when they finished.

Veceslav Stanuga8:50 am 28 Dec 18

This country needs safe steady hands and not flamboyant self serving public servants , your opinion has the tone of disrespect for authority and a desire to agitate

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