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

Genevieve Jacobs 23 September 2019 36

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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36 Responses to Who should be the model of a modern Governor-General?
Jamie Thomas Jamie Thomas 1:54 pm 31 Jan 19


How safe?

Blen_Carmichael Blen_Carmichael 7:25 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.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:18 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……..)


Helen McIntosh Carpenter Helen McIntosh Carpenter 10:31 am 30 Dec 18

Perhaps it’s because the Australians appointed to the position of GG, have earned respect, provided many years of service to Australia, are old enough and have the grace to represent our country.......and they have lived their lives honouring our country, our flag, and our way of life.......a young person, just out of University, has not lived life, has not acquired grace, and hasn’t learnt to honour his/her country and flag, and still has a lot to learn. Maturity has a hell of a lot going for it.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:45 am 30 Dec 18

    And why do you not think a woman hasn't these attributes to be Government General? Did you think Quentin Bryce was a mistake? (Basing my question on this and your previous 'smart' reply to me when I commented about the attitude that men are better for the job.) After all you are a woman. If you don't think there are women capable of doing the job; then how can you think you, as a female, are capable of commenting here?

    Helen McIntosh Carpenter Helen McIntosh Carpenter 11:28 am 30 Dec 18

    Julie Macklin, I did not say anything about women not having these attributes, READ what I said. My comment did not mention gender. Yes, I certainly did think Quentin Bryce was a great GG. I am also a supporter of the “best person for the job”, rather than appointing for gender balance, and I’m not one of these arrogant, agro, hairy armpits, women’s rights fighters. I’ve very much enjoyed being a real woman, and haven’t needed to be aggressive like you.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:41 pm 30 Dec 18

    Ray Atkin I have nothing against a male GG. I have never said anything against this. I would just like women to be equally considered for the position, which isn't happening with only one ever woman. Sadly the selection of another male appears to reflect Liberal male attitudes. Not saying all; but too many. It's appears to be the best man for the job. Status quo for the Liberals, whether selecting politicians, or the Governor General. Woman have their place; especially among the far right of the party, and a 'woman's place' isn't in a leadership role. It's the Liberals (who picked the GG) who need to expand their viewpoint, and those that defend them. 25 male and 1 female GGs; and now soon to be 26 male GGs. Some catching up needed to represent the population. After all most of the GGs were chosen because they were male.

    Frank Brown Frank Brown 8:09 am 02 Jan 19

    Julie, you say you have nothing against a male GG, then go on to say that the proposed new GG is the wrong choice because he is male. You are not sending a consistent message.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:36 pm 02 Jan 19

    Yes, I have nothing against a male GG, but I also have nothing against a female GG either. So, as there has been 25 male GGs, about to be 26, and one female GG, it would represent the population better if the next 25 GGs (or equivalent, if we become a republic) were female. Yes, that would be choosing the GG because they are female; just like those male GGs were chosen because they were male. Ridiculous yes, but so was the main qualification being that they were male, even into modern times.

    Frank Brown Frank Brown 7:21 pm 03 Jan 19

    Julie, earlier you wrote: "I would just like women to be equally considered for the position". That is clearly not what you want. You want only women to be considered. So for about the next 100 years you want men to be banned from this position, regardless of how qualified they are. Despite your earlier claims you have no desire for equality of opportunity. You just seek to overthrow they old bad system with a new bad system. That makes you just as sexist as those you despise (arguably you are worse). I believe all people should have equal opportunities regardless of their gender. It will be a much more pleasant world when people who seek to discriminate on the basis of gender (such as yourself) abandon their archaic attitudes.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:34 am 04 Jan 19

    Frank Brown You used the word bigot. But some of the worst bigots are those that freely use the word, without though, consideration and understanding of the problem. It comes from either ignorance, refusing or being incapable of seeing the problem from others viewpoint. From your writing I would suggest you fit all that. There is a problem; often perception, and I would suggest you are part of that. Your replies strongly indicate that. Those like you are often the worst to discriminate, because they don't recognise it, or accept the problem. In case you don't get the idea of perception, here is a quote from some research (not mine). " “… men “consistently perceive more gender parity” in their workplaces than women do. For example, when asked whether their workplaces recruited the same number of men and women, 72 percent of male managers answered “yes.” Only 42 percent of female managers agreed. And, while there’s a persistent stereotype that women are the more talkative gender, women actually tend to talk less than men in classroom discussions, professional contexts and even romantic relationships; one study found that a mixed-gender group needed to be between 60 and 80 percent female before women and men occupied equal time in the conversation. However, the stereotype would seem to have its roots in that same perception gap: “[In] seminars and debates, when women and men are deliberately given an equal amount of the highly valued talking time, there is often a perception that [women] are getting more than their fair share.”

Vic Franklin Vic Franklin 8:30 am 29 Dec 18

I am the very model of a modern governer general... Sorry 😄

Jen Dee Jen Dee 5:52 am 29 Dec 18

How about we become an independent republic?

    Helen McIntosh Carpenter Helen McIntosh Carpenter 10:35 am 30 Dec 18

    Jennifer Donohoe, no thanks, it won’t solve anything, and we should proudly remain part of the Commonwealth...we are independent, so why change what is not broken...

    Kim Bal-Al Kim Bal-Al 1:54 pm 02 Jan 19

    Draft a new Constitution and then let's talk about being a Republic.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 4:29 pm 03 Jan 19

    We are both. The High Court determined that we became independent some time during the Twentieth Century in Sue v Hill, and as a republic is one where the ultimate power flows from the sovereign people, that's us.

    The Queen has very little power here; about her only power is to appoint the Governor-General, and since 1926 that has been on the sole advice of the Prime Minister.

    The Governor-General has been given many powers in his own right, and he exercises them without instructions from the Queen. He also has many statutory powers given to him by Parliament.

    People think the Queen has a bigger role in our affairs than she really does; the truth is that we Australians are totally in control of our governance.

chewy14 chewy14 10:01 pm 28 Dec 18

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 Retro Capital Retro 3:45 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.

    chewy14 chewy14 11:56 pm 30 Dec 18

    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 Retro Capital Retro 11:18 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.

    g210 g210 11:13 am 02 Jan 19

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

Sue Skinner Sue Skinner 5:49 pm 28 Dec 18

I was thinking that there appears to be a lot of military men appointed.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 4:25 pm 29 Dec 18

    And generally male. Just what suits the Liberal Party.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 5:08 pm 29 Dec 18

    Well, what about military *women*? Are they not smart, good, balanced people as well? Surely these traits are not restricted to the male of the species?

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 5:18 pm 29 Dec 18

    Peter Mackay From his writings, I would suspect Ray Atkin thinks only a man should have the job. If he doesn't think that (or doesn't think he does) he would have worded his response differently.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 5:53 pm 29 Dec 18

    He should open his eyes. There are smart, well-educated, capable, inspiring women all around. And men, of course. Being human is enough to have the capacity for greatness.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 7:08 pm 29 Dec 18

    "not allowing it to become populist" But it has become 'populist'. It's popular with those that chose this that it's better the position be held by a male.

    Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 8:23 pm 29 Dec 18

    Ray Atkin My background is military, and I’m comfortable with military Governors-General. But I’m also comfortable with other professions. The important criteria for the job aren’t background, gender, race or wealth.

    Helen McIntosh Carpenter Helen McIntosh Carpenter 10:32 am 30 Dec 18

    Ray Atkin, well said....they can think on their feet....

    Helen McIntosh Carpenter Helen McIntosh Carpenter 10:32 am 30 Dec 18

    Julie Macklin, oh dear!!!!!!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:37 am 30 Dec 18

    Helen McIntosh Carpenter And you point, because you haven't made one.

    Kim Bal-Al Kim Bal-Al 1:52 pm 02 Jan 19

    David Hurley has also been GG of NSW so he has a proven track record in a similar role.

Daniel Duncan Daniel Duncan 3:34 pm 28 Dec 18

With this logic the next one will a 1 year old.

Veceslav Stanuga Veceslav Stanuga 1:38 pm 28 Dec 18

This article shows a disrespect for authority and its purpose is to agitate, there is no reason why a public servant is chosen because of their experience and a track record of service to their country who have a steady and neutral perspective, they do not have to be flamboyant and interesting to play this role in fact, this would show a bias which is not useful for such an important role, age may not be an issue but it does have experience behind it so it is an unreasonable point to use as being an unnecessary attribute to this position. You should write something that is up lifting and not derogatory and see what response you get.

taninaus taninaus 9:59 am 28 Dec 18

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 Stanuga Veceslav Stanuga 8:50 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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