Some Viceroys die in office. Some seek permission to withdrawn. A few have to be thrown out.  As Mr Peter Hollingworth dangled between the latter two positions, the fates of his predecessors provided no ordained way out.

The first Australian governor dragged from under his bed was William Bligh, on Australia Day 1808, in an insurrection sponsored by the land-crazed John Macarthur whose treason the Crown treated as indulgently as George Speight’s.

Some sixty years later, the Colonial Office recalled “the people’s governor” of Victoria, Sir Charles Darling, for backing the popularly-elected majority in the Legislative Assembly against the House of Landlords.

During the 1890s, the fathers of Federation made no procedure for the removal of a Governor-General. To have done so would have been like laying down rules to depose Queen Victoria. Instead, the clause 2 reads: “A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign him”.

The Clause 3 promises to pay the Queen £10,000 a year for the Governor-General’s upkeep. The first office-holder, Earl Hopetoun, requested a grant of £8000 to cover the maintenance of his two residences and for extra outlays during the 1901 Royal Visit for the inauguration of the Commonwealth. On hearing that the parliament had refused., Hopetoun advised the Colonial Secretary to have his commission withdrawn. Nine days later, the acting prime minister heard the news.

No one talked of replacing another vice-regal appointee until 1932 when Governor Sir Philip Game sacked NSW Labor premier, Jack Lang, after he had threatened interest payments to British bondholders. Had Lang won the subsequent election, Game might have been recalled even before the armies of the right – the Old and New Guards - reenacted Macarthur’s example and removed Lang by force.

After Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley told King George VI to appoint  NSW Labor mate, Premier Bill McKell, as Governor General early in 1947, the leader of the Federal Opposition, R. G. Menzies, hinted that, on achieving office, he would ask the king to replace his representative. On 16 December 1949, the day that McKell swore Menzies in as prime minister, the King’s private secretary advised Australia House in London that His Majesty did not favour McKell’s removal. When Liberal supporters complained at a broken promise, Menzies minuted their letters “Ignore”.

Had E. G Whitlam been a shade more omniscient, he could have escaped the ambush at Yarralumla on 11 November by asking the Queen to tell Sir John Kerr that he no longer pleased her. As with Lang and Game, such a move is would have ensued had Labor won the 1975 poll.

Sir John fared less well than Sir Philip as protestors pursued him around the continent, booing him at the footy, The office was in disrepute. Prime minister Fraser eased Kerr out after His Excellency’s all-too-perfect impersonation of Sir Toby Belch on Melbourne Cup Day, 1977. The consolation of the Ambassadorship to UNESCO in Paris also had to be withdrawn after public outrage.

The next gubernatorial contretemps concerned the second clergyman whom Don Dunstan made Governor of South Australia, succeeding Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls. Rumours that the Reverend Keith Seaman would be forced out appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on 24 February 1978. No reason was given. The sole Democrat member of the Assembly, Robin Millhouse, refused to let the matter rest until the Reverend Seaman issued a statement that, before assuming office, he had engaged in a “grave impropriety”, not a crime. He added that his Uniting Church discipline committee had examined his case and allowed him to continue in his ministry. Seaman sat out his five-year term.

Vice-regal appointees can neither resign nor can they be sacked by the government. The Queen can recall them or they can ask her to terminate their commissions. So much for the niceties. The reality is that even a inquiry from the Palace about her representative’s suitability arrives with the force of royal command.