CONSTITUTION - WHOSE PLEASURE
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 Some seek permission to withdrawn.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.
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
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
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”.
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withdrawn.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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.