CONSTITUTION - GGs
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.