As a meddler, Governor-General Sir William Deane is letting down his predecessors. Instead of intervening with policy, he bleats piety. Prime minister John Howard has called for Australians to be taught the facts about our constitutional government. Bill Deane certainly needs a history lesson if he is not to go on disgracing his office.

Deane could emulate Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, Governor-General from 1914-20, who allowed Government House Melbourne to be used as the headquarters of British intelligence. His official secretary, George Steward, was head of the Australian section of MI5. Until the 1930s, when the post of High Commissioner was established, Governors-General represented both the Crown and the United Kingdom government.

As Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Slim had turned up uninvited in 1950 to pressure the Menzies government into committing forces to the Middle East. Three years later, Slim was back as Governor-General. This time his departure was delayed a month so he could deal with the challenge to British power in Egypt. During the 1956 Suez crisis, Slim backed Menzies against his External Affairs Minister Casey.

Not all Slim’s interventions were covert. His public addresses gave Menzies a hard time, for example, criticising his defence policies. As a soldier’s soldier, Slim also barged in where no politician dared to tread and told the RSL at its 1953 National Conference to stop asking for more. Menzies later confessed that he was in a ‘muck sweat’ whenever he had to tackle Slim.

Late in December 1967, after prime minister Harold Holt was lost at sea, the then Governor-General, Lord Casey, reverted to his earlier role as a Liberal Party powerbroker to prevent William McMahon’s moving up from being deputy in the parliamentary Liberal Party. Casey installed Country Party leader Jack McEwen as acting prime minister. That manoeuvre eased Senator Gorton’s victory. Casey interfered out of fear that a majority for McMahon would provoke McEwen into breaking up the Coalition, and thereby destabilize Constitutional government.

Sir John Kerr remembered how to play up the gubernatorial game when he ambushed Whitlam on 11 November 1975. Kerr’s successor, Sir Zelman Cowan, undertook a lecture campaign to dampen the consequent republican sentiment.

The current Governor-General retains the powers of Queen Victoria and is heir to first-class chicanery in high places, yet the most he can do is sermonise. 

Shame, Deane, shame.