The role of the Governor-General and State Governors
By Jennie Di Blasi (Comments apply equally to both roles)
As a resident involved in community issues I mind very much that most people are not aware of the representative, consultative, mediating, and unifying role that governors do or can play in our national life. I mind very much that the office is slowly being eroded out of effective existence while we the people, whose interests it is designed to protect stand by and may yet, in our ignorance vote it out entirely.
Our constitution is a finely-tuned instrument of subtle checks and balances. The role of the Governor-General (and State Governors) is one of influence, a balance to the power of politicians. If it appears to lack authority as a symbol of national unity, it is not through any inadequacy in the role itself but because the power of politicians has sapped the strength of this institution and tipped the scales out of balance.
It is the only role which is outside the manipulation and machinations of politics. It is the only role to which politicians must answer and be accountable. It is the only role which is directly representative of the people's rights without the filters of party policy, vote-catching considerations or career agenda. No wonder politicians want to get rid of it.
Our task is not to substitute it with another power-based role, which is what a presidency dependent on votes from whatever source would be, but to restore it to its blueprint, to what it is designed to be and to develop its potential.
How many citizens realize for example that, with respect to government ministers, the Governor-General (and State Governors) have a right to be consulted, to encourage, to warn? This means that before, before signing a bill into law the Governor can ask questions of the minister concerned, request more information, warn that the course of action proposed may not be wise, advise a different course, make a minster feel pretty uncomfortable if necessary.
These rights are embedded in the role. The role is fundamental in the constitution. Politicians are therefore obliged to listen, to respond, to be accountable. They cannot fob the Governor-General/governor off as they might you or me with political replies.
What the community has here, besides a check to political power and a safeguard for the constitution is a potential mouthpiece with status and authority which cannot be ignored.
We need to redress the balance. We need to enhance the governor's role not diminish it so that he can use his influence on a political leadership too often cold to consultation, immune to local community concerns and uninterested in long-term implications of expedient decisions.
Citizens should be educated about this office; the links between governor and people should be strengthened; the line of access from community to governor should be clarified. We need to be able to inform him, to brief him. Issues appropriate for submission should be defined; the term of tenure lengthened.
What use the sop of access to his house (as in NSW) if we are denied access to his influence?
By removing a Governor from Government House (as in NSW) he becomes less visible and his status is diminished. By paring down his role to a part-time post his authority is undermined. By depriving him of adequate staff he becomes less accessible to the people. The only role which serves as a check to parliament is being reduced to the NSW Carr government's stated aim of "a rubber stamp for parliament". Is this not dangerous?
The role has potential for more. It could be expanded (by Act of Parliament if necessary), to include mediation on potentially divisive issues of state and national importance - environment, Native Title, gun laws, etc.
Governors are in a position to bring together all parties for dialogue in an environment that is safe and supportive and in a climate of co-operation - bang heads together if necessary. This environment would preclude domination by powerful lobby groups. Each point of view whether held by one or by many would be given equal validity. The office should be resourced to meet this expanded role.
I would like to see a return of the custom once practised by some of our Prime Ministers of regularly Addressing the Nation. In the hands of Governor-General and Governors this could be a great tool for national unity.
The mechanism is already in place. There is no need for this expensive, wasteful and potentially dangerous exercise of changing our system of government into a republic.
If anything is stopping this role from representing the national will in the way in which Australians should be able to expect of its Head of State it is not because of any relationship to the Crown (which is the ultimate protector of our constitutional rights) but because of the imbalance towards politics and power.
Due acknowledgement should be given when quoting from material on this Site
© Jennie Di Blasi