Vice-Regal: Bryce To Depart A Dame Unlamented

THE IMMINENT replacement of Quentin Bryce as Governor-General by Sir Peter Cosgrove warrants national pride, with the ascent of the distinguished General coinciding with the overdue restoration of knighthoods and damehoods to Australia’s honours system. It’s a reminder that reputations can be easily shredded: Bryce departs as just another Labor hack, a grub, and does not deserve the damehood bestowed upon her by the Prime Minister.

First things first: I think the re-introduction today of knighthoods and damehoods to Australia’s honours roll is overdue, highly appropriate, and something that all Australians should support; it is important to be able to single out individuals in our midst of the highest standing and achievement for recognition, and the elite category Prime Minister Tony Abbott has restored to the Order of Australia today fills a gap in that Order that has been missing since the Hawke government abolished it in 1986.

It is important to note that contrary to popular misconception, these awards are neither British nor Imperial in nature; these are Australian awards, made under the Order of Australia, and as such very different to, say, being called “Sir” on account of being made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) which is, ultimately, a British award.

Republicans, therefore, can have no complaint against it on anti-monarchical grounds.

And I contend some of the noisier and outraged members of the lobby of the downtrodden can have no gripe with it, either: just as I have no problem with their advocacy for and on behalf of the poorest and most disaffected members of society, they in turn should have no problem with individuals having something like this to strive for: a recognition of excellence and achievement.

Just as the poorest should be lifted from their circumstances, so too should the best and brightest be encouraged and rewarded and spurred on to greater heights, and it is an indecent view of society that would have one to the total exclusion of the other.

These awards have been reintroduced to coincide with the completion of the present Governor-General’s term in office, and her replacement by a true Australian hero and living national treasure in the retired General, now Sir Peter Cosgrove.

To me, the timing is exquisite; the departure of Bryce doesn’t completely close the door on what has more or less been a dominant Labor generation* in terms of its prominence in Australian politics — that can only happen once the balance of power in the Senate changes in July — but I have to say that the arrival of Gen Cosgrove at Yarralumla will signal a break with Australia’s recent Labor past, and restore some much-needed dignity to the highest office in the land after the disgraceful precedent set by Bryce.

The fact Bryce was a woman in vice-regal office is no precedent; after all, she wasn’t even the first female governor of her home state of Queensland.

I actually think her gender makes no difference at all; in my view, the only considerations are a) can she do the job? and, b) how well, with hindsight, she did the job.

Only a fool would argue Bryce wasn’t up to being Governor-General; she is no idiot, and in fact, that was part of the problem.

Readers will recall that in November last year — when she foolishly waded into domestic politics, advocating in favour of gay marriage and a republic — this column slammed her interventions, pointing out (very correctly) that it was entirely improper for the holder of the office of Governor-General to be intervening in the political issues of the day. For those who didn’t see my article at the time, it is here.

Until that outburst, I had previously opined (the few times the Governor-Generalship even surfaced as a topical subject) that Bryce, by and large, had rather surprisingly made an excellent Governor-General, serving with distinction and aplomb.

What had been so “surprising” about these observations had nothing to do with Bryce’s gender and everything to do with her background, based as it is in the radical activism of the social Left. It surprised me she had been able to keep a lid on these prejudices in her official capacity. I had spoken too soon. My observations had been premature.

And in direct answer to those who might refer to Abbott’s comments at the time — that he had been “comfortable” with what Bryce had said — I would simply point out that those comments are words from a man with a vested interest, as Prime Minister, in offending as few people as possible.

No true interpretation of responsible government in Australia and the role the office of Governor-General plays in it could ever excuse such a divisive foray into rank partisanship by its occupant.

Conventions around roles such as the Governor-Generalship exist for good reason; in this case, the political impartiality and strict neutrality of the role are essential if the office is to remain uncompromised as an instrument of the system of constitutional monarchy, or to enable its holder to act properly and fearlessly if a situation similar to the events of October-November 1975 should ever again arise.

The higher the office, the higher the expectation; and in this vein, what might have been regarded as the rendering of meritorious vice-regal service was ripped apart by a few cheap cracks Bryce simply lacked the self-restraint or discipline to keep quiet about.

She leaves the office of Governor-General ready for her successor to restore it to the propriety and dignity it deserves; whilst not perhaps a complete failure, the kindest judgement of her term at Yarralumla is that is was unremarkable — save for the offensive partisan statements she made in a speech that quite literally should never have been uttered by somebody in her position.

Nobody should mark down the period spent by Quentin Bryce as Governor-General as a time to be remembered with any affection. She was not a great holder of the office. Her tenure was not remarkable or distinguished. In contexts such as these, reputations are hard-earned over long years and may be destroyed in an instant. Her time in the role has left a great stain of partisanship on a great office of state. She does not deserve the damehood the Prime Minister has bestowed upon her.

 

*To clarify, whilst the Liberal Party governed for 12 years under John Howard, federally, from March 1996 to November 2007, it must be remembered that his election took place at a time when Coalition state governments were early in an overall process of falling from office across the country; Labor has had the better of Australian politics over the past 20 years or so when the states are included for consideration, and it is this dominant Labor generation to which I refer.

Finally! Peter Cosgrove Named Australia’s 26th Governor-General

PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott has confirmed one of the worst-kept secrets in Australian politics of recent times, announcing that retired General and Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove is to become Australia’s 26th Governor-General; Cosgrove is a standout candidate for the role, and his appointment is to be heartily applauded. The restoration of decency to the office, and respect for the institution it represents, is long overdue.

Confirmation today of the appointment of Peter Cosgrove as Australia’s 26th Governor-General since Federation is to be welcomed, applauded, and even celebrated; this is the highest office in the land, and Cosgrove will take up the role in March with the best wishes and support of millions of Australians.

It is difficult to think of a better — or more suited — candidate as Governor-General at this time than General Cosgrove, who will replace Quentin Bryce when her (extended) tenure comes to an end in March; with a fine record in Australia’s military, business and charitable sectors, Cosgrove brings a broad depth of experience to this role backed by a reputation for competence and a tradition of integrity and probity of service.

Significantly, Cosgrove — a committed constitutional monarchist — is unlikely to rock the boat as his erstwhile predecessor ultimately chose to do; whilst the nature of Australia’s institutions of governance may or may not evolve and change over time as dictated by the will of the people, in accordance with the Constitution, those institutions demand the respect and impartiality of those who serve them and this is especially true of the office of the Governor-General.

It is regrettable that Quentin Bryce — a prominent Labor figure and social activist of many years’ standing prior to her first vice-regal appointment as Governor of Queensland by the government of Peter Beattie — opted, in the end, to sully her tenure as Governor-General by making direct interventions into the realm of partisan political politics.

I have opined in this column previously that political appointees to this office over the decades — Liberal and Labor alike — have forged a surprisingly distinguished tradition of service in the role, however questionable their suitability may have been regarded at the time or however dubious the motives of their Prime Ministers in appointing them.

In seeming to seek to provide vice-regal imprimatur to the causes of gay marriage, affirmative action and the republican movement, Bryce lowered her colours and trashed any value her time as Governor-General may have represented; I have said in the past — and prior to her regrettable foray into active politics — that despite her background her tenure in the office was one of distinction.

That cannot be said of it now; regardless of the elegance with which Bryce conducts herself publicly, or the crisp, polished communication style she deploys, she has shown herself to be just another political grub devoid of timing, sense of occasion, or indeed any comprehension of what constitutes acceptable standards of conduct required of the office she has held — or, it seems, what does not.

Gen Cosgrove comes to the office of Governor-General at what is likely to prove a time of great change for the institution he will now represent; already, it is well known publicly that Prince Charles is taking on the bulk of the public commitments of Her Majesty the Queen, and will continue to assume more of her workload behind the scenes as he prepares to become King. Her Majesty is now 88 years old, and whilst the subject was once regarded as unspeakable, it’s an open secret that government and Palace officials are preparing for a succession in the monarchy, and perhaps sooner rather than later.

In this regard, it is critical that the representative of the monarch is an individual of unimpeachable character at a time when stability and continuity is likely to be required. Gen Cosgrove satisfies those criteria.

And in fact, at 66 years of age, Cosgrove embodies the very youngest end of a generation that might have any direct memory at all of living under a monarch other than Elizabeth II, who ascension to the throne in 1952 ushered in a reign currently standing second in duration only to the 64-year rule of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901; it may be the historic nature of this appointment today will run far deeper in retrospect, in years to come, than might be apparent now.

Cosgrove’s appointment is for five years, running from March this year until early in 2019, and is believed to have received the Queen’s assent at the weekend.

Some monarchists will be bitterly disappointed today that former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard isn’t the man at the centre of this announcement.

As a conservative and a monarchist I understand their views and to some extent sympathise, but I cannot stress strongly enough that as much as Mr Howard may be qualified to serve as Governor-General — indeed, the role could have been tailored to him, such is the fit at face value — he is too deeply political and polarising a figure to represent an appropriate selection to the office, and I encourage those who may have hoped for his appointment to get behind Gen Cosgrove. He is a fine candidate for the role.

To those readers of republican bent, I appeal to you to embrace Gen Cosgrove in his new vocation; if there is one thing Bryce has shown, it is that the office of the viceroy can be warmly accepted (even if, admittedly, largely by fellow travellers of her social agenda), and for long as there is a role for a Governor-General in this country it will continue to be filled by a fine Australian. Cosgrove is certainly that, and deserves the support and affection of his peers.

And to those warriors and spivs of the ALP, operating in the unscrupulous and ethics-free spirit of smugly attacking anything and everything even indirectly associated with Tony Abbott — just because they think they can — get a grip and wake up to yourselves for once, and leave Cosgrove alone: it’s one thing to try to force-feed the voting public a steady diet of lies where domestic politics is concerned, but another altogether to take aim at the structural edifices of the system itself. Quite simply: Don’t. The only people impressed by your antics, at the very best of times, is yourselves.

It’s a shame to even dignify such people with a mention on what is a great day for Australia. But the tactics they used to destroy Peter Hollingworth were never deployed against William Deane or Quentin Bryce, and they should under no circumstances be revisited now, just because Cosgrove is Abbott’s appointment.

I am delighted that — finally, after years of speculation — Cosgrove has been appointed to that office which sits at the apex of Australia’s system of governance. I am sure he will discharge the role with distinction, and I congratulate him heartily on his appointment as Governor-General today.

God Save The Queen!

 

Our Call: Peter Cosgrove Should Be Australia’s Next Governor-General

THE MURDOCH PRESS is reporting the Abbott government has all but finalised the appointment of former Defence chief and war veteran Peter Cosgrove as Australia’s next Governor General; we believe General Cosgrove is — quite simply — the standout candidate for this appointment by a wide margin, who will restore some much-needed dignity to the office of Australia’s Head of State.

I trust readers have had an enjoyable and safe Christmas with their families, loved ones and friends; as ever, life goes on, and to that extent I will be posting during the so-called silly season: at times on less time-specific subjects of interest to me that I am sure readers will also find engaging, but also on issues that arise on the way through — like this one.

Most readers will know I have long been an advocate for General Cosgrove’s appointment as Governor-General even if, admittedly, that view has been expressed through the prism of whom I do not support for the role: namely, the Right Honourable John Winston Howard.

(For those who are new to our discussion, however, you can view here and here to see what I have been on about).

The Murdoch press — whose journalists, let’s be honest, would know — is reporting today that Cosgrove’s appointment is more or less a done deal: yet to be formally recommended to Buckingham Palace for approval, it appears Cosgrove is nonetheless ordering his affairs in preparation to assume vice-regal office on the recommendation of Tony Abbott.

This column gives its wholehearted, enthusiastic and unqualified support to the appointment of General Cosgrove to the post; a fine career in the military, public service, business and the not-for-profit sectors uniquely qualifies him to serve at the apex of Australia’s system of governance.

Importantly, it is said the appointment carries Howard’s imprimatur which should, in equal measure, mollify those who believed Howard himself should have been called upon to serve as well as silencing those political critics who have argued a deal existed with Abbott for Howard to be appointed — a suggestion that, frankly, defies reality.

I am particularly pleased — as the son of a veteran of the Vietnam War — that one of his number is set to be recognised in this manner; some will find it a small point, but I believe veterans of that conflict have never been properly acknowledged for their service, and in this regard I think the consideration is a significant one.

But to be brutal, General Cosgrove’s arrival at Yarralumla should also trigger the restoration of some decency and dignity to the office.

It is ironic that someone like Quentin Bryce — a highly partisan and often controversial Labor lawyer and social activist prior to her time in vice-regal life — should have mostly served in the post with some distinction.

Unlike some of my conservative cousins elsewhere, I have never believed she faced a conflict of interest on the basis her son-in-law — ALP “leader” Bill Shorten — was firstly a government minister under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and now opposition leader; if anything, that conflict (if it really existed) fell to Shorten to resolve, on the simple basis Bryce was in place in her role first.

But Bryce’s outburst, in one of the Boyer lectures she delivered for the ABC, that Australia should become a republic was an outrage, and completely destroyed any claim she may have had to legitimate respect for either her tenure as Governor-General or for the manner in which she has discharged her duties, which is rendered derelict by her remarks.

(Should he be prepared to accept the honour, I have no problem with the call by Australians for Constitutional Monarchy for Cosgrove to be knighted upon confirmation of his appointment, either).

Her remarks on the fraught political issue of gay marriage in the same lecture series, openly advocating legislative sanction of the measure, were reprehensible.

The post — despite a history of being filled with political appointees — is traditionally apolitical, and that tradition has surprisingly been upheld even by some of the most controversial political appointees to the post.

And someone like Bryce would have fully understood the inappropriate nature of her remarks on that occasion, and should have exercised the self-control to desist.

There are also lingering questions surrounding the Heiner Affair in Queensland from the early 1990s that Bryce may be called upon to address that place a question mark over whether she should ever have been elevated to such a prestigious position of governance in the first place.

Indeed, we believe she shouldn’t have been — be that to the Governor-Generalship or to the governorship of Queensland prior to that.

I know many of my readers — whether they sit on the Left or the Right — will probably see me pushing an agenda I have pursued in this column for some time, and for that I make no apology.

I simply think General Cosgrove is — to put it stereotypically — the only choice for the post of all the names that are under consideration, and if the news is correct that his appointment is a virtual formality, then so much the better.

 

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.

 

Rudd, The “Yarralumla Prospect,” And Peter Slipper

KEVIN RUDD has been re-elected to the leadership of the Labor Party; the result raises more questions than answers, and will do nothing to avert the electoral rout the ALP seems destined to suffer. Indeed, Labor’s chaos — if it continues in office — seems set only to intensify.

If we go back to November 2011, I posted an article entitled “Here You Come Again;” it dealt — not for the first time — with ruminations emanating from the ALP about a possible leadership challenge and return as Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd.

Yesterday, that event materialised.

And in the occasional spirit of YouTube entertainment for the benefit of readers, I post the same clip as I did then, which will at least provide something to listen to whilst reading.

But the return of Rudd will provide no solution to the woes of the ALP, nor provide it the prospect of scoring the unlikeliest of election wins.

It is too often overlooked that from the minute he became Liberal leader in late 2009, Tony Abbott began to eat into Rudd’s stellar opinion poll numbers; it was this — coupled with his own truly shocking record in government — that provided the circumstances under which Julia Gillard and her cohorts were able to overthrow him.

Rudd — and this is an old story — is viscerally detested in the ALP; his colleagues loathe him with an unbridled passion that is difficult even for some old political hands to fathom.

Yet many of them have voted to restore him as their leader in the forlorn and frankly pitiful hope he will save their seats, whilst others are busily stomping out of cabinet, or Parliament, or both.

It remains to be seen whether the three MPs who threatened to immediately resign from Parliament if Rudd ever returned deliver on their threats.

To do so their resignations would need to be effective by about noon today to have any practical effect, as after that time Parliament is unlikely to sit again prior to the election; such kamikaze tactics would be pointless if they did not facilitate the fall of the Rudd government on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Yet fall the government still might.

The Red And The Blue understands that Governor-General Quentin Bryce will this morning commission Rudd as Prime Minister on the condition he demonstrates that he commands a majority in the House; even now, the role of Independents (and maverick Labor MPs) will be critical.

At this stage, Labor commands 70 of the 149 MPs on the floor of the House*; it also has pledges of support for Rudd from Greens MP Adam Bandt as well as Craig Thomson and Andrew Wilkie.

The position of Bob Katter Jr is less clear; last night it was initially reported that he had pledged support for Rudd in a confidence ballot too.

But subsequent reports showed Katter had said on Twitter that whilst he supports Rudd as Labor leader, his position on confidence in the government has not changed and that he would support a motion of no-confidence in the government.

Fellow Independent Tony Windsor has suggested he may do likewise, and indications from Rob Oakeshott — whilst insisting he has not decided — tell a similar story.

Were all three to support a no-confidence motion, the Coalition would win any vote, 75-74; as such a motion requires an absolute majority of MPs to vote to suspend standing orders before it can be moved, however, the critical vote is probably that of grub, former Speaker and LNP turncoat Peter Slipper.

It is a sad indictment that yet another conservative rat may hold the outcome of years of internecine Labor infighting in his hands, but as things stand, it’s that simple; Rudd’s fate as PM may hinge on what Slipper chooses to do in his final act as a Parliamentarian.

It brings the “Yarralumla Prospect” we have spoken about back into play; that is, Bryce may yet find herself with the proverbial “role to play”: if a no-confidence vote in Rudd succeeds, there is every possibility it will be Abbott who sees the week out as Prime Minister, not Rudd.

Ironically, such an outcome would be in the best political interests of Kevin Rudd.

By being forced to campaign as opposition leader, Rudd would be permitted to perpetuate the unspoken victim complex that has permeated Australian politics for the past three years; restored as leader but not to office, the ALP election campaign would be based solely on the supposed popularity of Rudd in a sickening populist onslaught.

Yet whether it comes to that or not, Rudd is unlikely to lead Labor to an election win.

As I have said in this column previously, the problem is the Labor Party itself, not necessarily its leader; indeed, today’s leadership change — Labor’s fifth in ten years, and the third since 2006 — is a telling reminder of the divided, conflict-racked beast the once-great ALP has become.

My sense is that the initial opinion polls after today’s events will indeed see Labor in a winning position; such is the nature of the honeymoon effect in Australian politics.

It will be important for the Liberal Party to hold its nerve in the next few weeks.

But the Rudd glow will quickly dissipate, as voters soon remember all the reasons he was already falling from public favour when he was replaced, and as Tony Abbott — who has found the way to pull Rudd down once before — sets about doing so again.

The parade of ministerial resignations, whilst honourable for their adherence to individual pledges to do so if Rudd were restored, add nothing to the image of the ALP as a party fit to govern, nor display any interest in either the good of the country or the obligations of the MPs in question to represent their electorates to the best of their abilities.

To the contrary, it is further evidence — were any required — that Labor’s only interest is an obsession with personal political agendas even if those agendas sit in complete contempt of the electorate and the national interest.

To enact such a change this close to an election shows a cavalier disregard for the intelligence of voters insofar as Labor now seeks an election win — almost out of sympathy for Rudd — which would be underpinned by the near certainty that were the ALP to win it would discard Rudd again as soon as the votes were tallied.

I saw Rudd speak late last night; typically late, he showed up to a press conference nearly an hour behind schedule and said next to nothing of substance.

Certainly, he was gracious to an extent to Gillard and to Wayne Swan; to an extent, he could afford to be.

But — dangerously for the ALP, I thought — he immediately began to play Wayne Swan’s cracked record on Labor’s alleged stewardship during the GFC: an event now five years in the past.

And his remarks omitted any reference to the litany of policy disasters either committed or commenced on his first watch as Prime Minister: the mining tax, the mess over climate change that became the carbon tax, the pink batts fiasco, green loans, the defective school building program…

There is also the small matter of Rudd’s triumphant abolition of the Howard government’s “Pacific Solution,” his proud boast there would be no “lurch to the right” under any government he led on the issue — and the torrent of unauthorised boat arrivals that promptly commenced, numbering in hundreds of boats carrying thousands of people.

With many people literally drowning at sea as a direct consequence.

All of these things provide a potent arsenal for an opposition that is hungry to win and ready to govern, and the Liberals will use them.

Gillard’s record and Rudd’s record are effectively the same record, and it will be fascinating to see how Rudd attempts to neutralise what has been appalling political mismanagement over six years in government.

Clearly — with the issue of a confidence proceeding in Parliament today the next item in the saga — this story has some way to go as it plays out.

But an electorate that has grown increasingly sophisticated and politically literate as a direct result of the past three years of Labor in power is entitled to be sceptical.

Voters should not be hoodwinked by any of yesterday’s shenanigans in the ALP. The poor record that generated abysmal opinion polling and ultimately felled Julia Gillard is as much Rudd’s legacy in government as it is hers.

Properly executed, a Liberal Party campaign will destroy the myth of “Rudd the Leader” or any pretension that somehow, Labor will now change.

And this column stands by its call that Australia needs a change of government if its standard of governance is to improve, and that an election should now be held on the earliest constitutionally allowable date. That means 3 August.

What has already been a long week in politics grows a little longer again later today.

 

*Labor’s 71st MP, Anna Burke, is Speaker, and votes only if parliamentary votes are tied.

 

Constitutional Crisis? More On Potential Fallout From Rudd Return

SOME HOURS after publishing our article last night — in which we stated the Governor-General may have “a role to play” in a return by Kevin Rudd to the Labor leadership — an article appeared in the Fairfax press raising similar questions. It seems the “Yarralumla Prospect,” unforeseen by Labor, is real.

There has been a lot of discussion — openly and behind the scenes — on matters I raised last night in relation to the timing of a return by Kevin Rudd to the leadership of the ALP.

Opinion seems divided among readers of The Red And The Blue about exactly what might transpire if Labor switches leaders after the conclusion of next week’s parliamentary sitting, but few readers who have commented here or raised the matter with me directly believe it likely Rudd will simply be sworn in as Prime Minister in such circumstances.

(Interestingly, some people don’t realise that after next Thursday, that’s “it” in terms of the prospect of a no-confidence motion: even if the election date is changed, Parliament is highly unlikely to sit again this side of an election. One reader pointed out the House of Reps could sit again on August 20, but this would necessitate an election in early October (at the earliest): a politically fraught option indeed for the ALP. But that’s another story).

Now, the “Yarralumla Prospect” — as someone rather quaintly described it to me this afternoon — is openly exercising the minds of others close to the political game as well.

I read with great interest a piece by Mark Kenny that has been published on the Fairfax news sites today (“Labor Risks Majority Crisis”) which readers can access here, and I strongly encourage all to check it out.

It adds another layer to the labyrinth of intrigue that currently shrouds the Labor leadership, who has the numbers to win it, and whether that has any bearing in relation to any move to subject it to a contest.

As I have been frequently pointing out of late, I don’t believe for a nanosecond that Kevin Rudd, at this point in time, commands a majority of votes in the ALP caucus or that he is within a vote or two of doing so.

I do think however that the 71-31 thumping Gillard meted out the last time there was a vote probably overstates her support by about fifteen votes; the margin is a lot closer: the question is how much closer, and whether that gap can be closed out in another week.

Certainly, the mood is far more febrile and fluid than even three months ago, at the time of the non-coup, the histrionics and leaking of “numbers” by the Rudd camp notwithstanding.

Even so, I still think the most likely outcome is that Gillard makes it to the winter recess as Prime Minister, and goes on to face Tony Abbott at an election on 14 September.

But a week is a long time in politics, and on the issue of a potential constitutional crisis arising from a leadership change in the ALP, the key point to my mind from the attached article by Kenny states that

“Both pro-Rudd and pro-Gillard forces have been working on the assumption that the leadership stalemate would be brought to a head…on Thursday next week to avoid a parliamentary no-confidence vote.”

It’s a point that reflects more on Rudd than on Gillard; as the plotter (which is what he is, just in case anyone is naive enough to think his pledge not to return as leader holds water) Rudd — or at least, someone close to him — has thought of this possible pitfall.

A cynic might say that for someone who manages and plans every detail to the minutiae, Rudd must have initially overlooked this; that yet again, he’s been too smart by half, and that even if he made a return to the ALP leadership he couldn’t control the outcome.

The Yarralumla Prospect is alive and well. How it would play out is anyone’s guess.

 

ALP Leadership: Could Quentin Bryce Do A John Kerr?

PRIOR TO the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975, even Labor MPs joked about Governor-General Sir John Kerr “doing a Philip Game;” in view of a possible result of the latest ALP leadership stoush, we consider whether G-G Quentin Bryce, in the proper performance of her duty, might “do a Kerr.”

It’s funny how things run in threes.

Game, of course, was the Labor-appointed Governor of New South Wales who dismissed the state Labor government of Jack Lang in 1932; Sir John — another ALP-appointed viceroy, becoming Governor-General in 1974 — resolved the constitutional crisis caused by a deadlock between the Houses of federal Parliament by dismissing Whitlam’s government.

Now, 38 years later — and depending on the outcome of leadership ructions again swirling around the Labor Party — current Governor-General Quentin Bryce may very well do something similar.

And this suggestion isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance.

Something we alluded to last week — in an article, ironically, about key Labor powerbroker Bill Shorten — was the possibility that any change in the ALP leadership is likely to come at the end of next week: when sitting days scheduled for the House of Representatives are concluded.

This is an important point.

Another lies in the fact that Shorten’s wife — the Governor-General’s daughter, Chloe Bryce — is the president of the board of Women for Gillard, an organisation set up to campaign for present Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

(And for expediency and ease of distinction between mother and daughter — with no disrespect intended to either — I am going to refer to Bryce Jr, simply, as “Chloe”).

There has been a lot of (mostly unfounded) chatter over the past few years, centred on a perceived conflict of interest Quentin Bryce may face in the hypothetical event of a Labor leadership change resulting in her son-in-law becoming Prime Minister.

But I have been thinking about a different scenario which I will outline, and I just wonder — especially if there are any constitutional lawyers in the ranks of our readers — whether I might have hit upon something that could detonate the Prime Ministership in Kevin Rudd’s face if he is able to wrest back the leadership of the ALP.

Let us suppose that a special meeting of the Labor caucus is convened for next Friday morning, 27 June; the House will have risen, as Thursday 26 June is the final sitting day scheduled before the election slated to be held in September.

It has to be a special meeting for the leadership to be considered; both Rudd and Gillard will be attending the funeral of former first lady Hazel Hawke when the next ordinary caucus meeting occurs on Tuesday.

Assuming such a meeting occurs next Friday, let’s go one step further and suppose that Kevin Rudd emerges as Labor leader.

There will be no motion of no-confidence, simply because there will be no parliamentary sitting at which the Liberal Party could move it.

The pact between Gillard and the Independents, technically, will be void; the arrangement pertains principally to matters of confidence and supply, and with the budget through the House and no scope for a no-confidence motion, whether Tony Windsor and/or Rob Oakeshott back or desert the Labor Party and its new leader is irrelevant.

However, as new Labor leader, Rudd would be obliged — in calling upon Her Excellency — to advise whether or not he had the confidence of the House of Representatives, and whether or not he could guarantee supply to his government.

Clearly, he would be unable to answer in the affirmative.

There would (to my mind) be an additional issue: unlike the whisperings of a conflict of interest about a potential Shorten Prime Ministership, on such an occasion Bryce would be in the invidious position of meeting a Labor leader whose sworn opponent had been publicly supported by her own daughter in a public and bitterly partisan political fight.

This is where things become a grey area legally that I would encourage readers with proper constitutional knowledge (NOT opinions of what they want to transpire) to enter the discussion on.

In light of Chloe’s role at Women for Gillard, it is difficult to see how Bryce could offer Rudd a commission as Prime Minister, with Chloe a key member of an organisation pledged to defeat him, and to advance his opponent’s interests politically.

I would think Rudd’s inability to test confidence in a government he formed would magnify such a consideration, and in light of the role of Independents in confirming or withholding confidence in a Rudd government, the vice-regal office could be seen to have sided with one combatant over another in an internal partisan issue if Bryce did commission him.

In 1975, Sir John Kerr dismissed Whitlam, despite the latter having the numbers to form a government; the issue was inability to guarantee supply to that government.

Now, the question of supply is irrelevant; whoever becomes Prime Minister in the short term will have no problems there.

But how can Rudd be commissioned to form a government when his numbers are unknown?

Sir John set a precedent in 1975, by commissioning then opposition leader Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker Prime Minister until elections could be held for both Houses of Parliament, providing voters the opportunity to break the deadlock and elect a government.

As history shows, they elected Fraser and the Coalition by a record margin.

Now let’s go back to the sequence of events.

A special meeting of the Labor Party caucus is convened and takes place next Friday.

By whatever mechanism, Kevin Rudd is elected as leader of the ALP at that meeting.

In the proper performance of her duties, my question is this: Quentin Bryce (or any lieutenant, for that matter) would surely politicise the office of Governor-General by commissioning him as Prime Minister.

What would happen?

My guess — given someone must be commissioned as Prime Minister — is that Bryce would have no constitutionally allowable alternative than to send for Tony Abbott, as leader of the opposition, and to commission him as caretaker Prime Minister until an election could be held for the House of Representatives and half the Senate.

Were that to occur, the 14 September election date would likely be abandoned in the same meeting in favour of 3 August: the earliest date possible under the Constitution.

Rudd, in this scenario, would be forced to campaign as opposition leader.

Does this sound far-fetched?

It is only far-fetched if a) Rudd does not become Labor leader, b) my educated guess on the constitutional niceties and the precedent set in 1975 is awry, or c) Bryce opts to politicise the vice-regal office by commissioning Rudd, implicitly intervening in party politics in so doing.

I should point out that I still don’t really think it will come to that; I doubt Rudd commands the majority of caucus votes his supporters have been telling the media he has in the bag, and if he doesn’t have the support of his colleagues, next week will pass without a murmur.

But if Rudd does have the numbers — and Gillard refuses to resign — I have no doubt whatsoever that Rudd will activate whatever loophole he has built into his promise not to challenge for the leadership, and do precisely that on Friday week.

As the late, respected political journalist Peter Harvey said just before he died of Rudd, as long as Rudd “has breath in his body” he will seize the opportunity to be Prime Minister again at any time it is possible to do so, irrespective of timing or political climate.

And if that happens, the Governor-General — as was the case on 11 November 1975 — will most certainly have “a role to play.”

 

Please feel free to comment, but note there is a distinction between the Governor-General’s course of action within her responsibilities and what any of us, individually or collectively, might wish. My personal preference — overwhelmingly — is for Gillard to lead Labor to the election and for the latest leadership banter to dissipate, so I’m certainly not pushing my own barrow in raising this scenario!