Gay Rights, Republic: Pull Your Head In, Governor-General

IN A FLAGRANT abuse of office, Quentin Bryce has made an inappropriate, tacky public foray into politics, using a lecture series convened by the ABC to advocate gay marriage and a republic. The Governor-General has shown cavalier disrespect for the sovereign, and compromised her position.

It is an utter disgrace that a serving Governor-General should opt to intervene in issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with her role, let alone divisive matters that politicise what is and should always be a strictly impartial role at the apex of Australian governance.

Yet for someone who was a social activist as a prominent Labor figure prior to assuming vice-regal office it comes as no surprise, not that that excuses or justifies her actions.

Quentin Bryce has used the last in a series of lectures orchestrated by the ABC to outline “her vision” for a country “where people are free to love and marry whom they choose and where…(a) young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first Head of State.”

To be clear, my remarks today have nothing to do with my positions on the issues the Governor-General has raised, although readers will know that I am opposed to both and have outlined my reasons in this column several times in the past.

Very simply, Quentin Bryce has politicised what is an apolitical post, and for that she deserves contempt.

Providing vice-regal imprimatur to contentious social issues probably sounds like a brilliant idea to a socialist, but that’s the point: it’s the one office in Australia that “has no opinion.”

The views of Quentin Bryce on these matters is irrelevant, although the reaction from predictable quarters is an object demonstration of the irresponsibility of airing them.

Communist Party Greens leader Christine Milne was quick out of the blocks, taking to Twitter to express her congratulations “for strong advocacy of marriage equality, a republic and an ethic of care. Real leadership.”

The former Labor Premier of Western Australia, Geoff Gallop — now chairman of the Australian Republican Movement — used the speech as his cue to declare that it was time to revisit the issue of “an Australian head of state.”

But Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer — also a republican — was, properly, more circumspect, declaring “It’s highly unusual for a currently serving Governor-General to advocate for a republic.”

Quite.

It is not indelicate to point out that since her appointment as Governor of Queensland in 2003 and subsequently as Governor-General in 2008, Bryce has been content to pocket millions of taxpayer-funded salary dollars as the representative of the Crown.

It is entirely reasonable to therefore hold her to the consequent expectation that she would adhere to the clear convention that her offices should not interfere in political issues.

Past Governors-General have done so; even Labor appointees such as Bill Hayden and William Deane performed their duties admirably and with distinction, although Deane had a mildly controversial reputation at the time for his advocacy on Aboriginal disadvantage.

By contrast, however, Bryce has revealed herself as nothing more than a grub.

As I said at the outset, my remarks have nothing to do with my own stand on the issues Bryce has elected to interfere in, and they don’t.

But the principle of the independence of the Governor-General has been violated in a calculated and deliberate fashion, and for that Bryce should be condemned.

Her comments do not legitimise one side of the debate on such issues o’er the other, nor invalidate the contrary position.

But the reactions from elements campaigning on the same side of those debates shows why the convention of independence exists at all: now, they will parade and trumpet Bryce’s intervention as the provision of official sanction where none should exist — either way.

There is, not to put too fine a point on it, also the issue of disrespect for the monarch who remains — irrespective of the wishes of some to the contrary — Australia’s head of state.

For its part, the institution itself maintained the admirable neutrality that Bryce clearly lacks the self-discipline or principle to display, saying in a statement that “in response to any questions about the future of the Monarchy in Australia, Buckingham Palace has always maintained that this is a matter for the people of Australia.”

Which is how it should be.

In closing — and to address any charge of hypocrisy that readers opposed to my views might level — I should point out that my remarks in no way disrespect the office of the Governor-General.

In my view, its current occupant was an unsuitable appointee who was also an inappropriate selection as Governor of Queensland, and I said so on both occasions at the time (and had this column been in operation in 2003 and/or 2008, I would have published remarks to that effect here then too).

Bryce has shown, by her contempt for conventions of appropriate conduct as the holder of that office, that she is not entitled to any respect: indeed, I look forward to her pending replacement by a more suitable candidate.

It is because of my respect for the office that I make the points I do here, and the sooner Bryce ceases to sully it, the better.