Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 07:35 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 18 Jul 2018 | 07:35 | SYDNEY

Governor-General: Into Africa


Fergus Hanson


10 March 2009 11:16

So the Governor-General is going to Africa to lobby for our seat on the UN Security Council — a controversial move, apparently. Some of the rhetoric seems overblown and misleading, such as the strange conflation of the trip to Africa with the Government's attendance at the Durban Conference, which the GG is not attending. Still, the idea of having a debate on the proper role for Australia's head of state is a good one.

This GG was appointed by a republican-minded government and the coalition is now also led by a republican. We shouldn't really be surprised, then, if we start to see signs of what an Australian president might be used for from this, potentially our final, GG. 

Last year we saw her address the East Timorese parliament, which must be the first address to a foreign parliament by our head of state. Now we have her being used to campaign in Africa for our UN Security Council seat. The Prime Minister's press release suggests the more activist role the Government has in mind for her. The Government is still to launch the republican debate (possibly a casualty of the GFC) but we can still expect gradual moves towards a more presidential-style office and role. 

Annual appropriations for the GG's office were over $15 million in 2007-08, so why not make them do something more than cut ribbons? A ceremonial head of state who spends their time in palaces and castles while on overseas jaunts doesn't do much but burn a hole in the Australian taxpayer's wallet. 

An active GG, with a higher profile, could act as a useful supplement to a Prime Minister with an overstretched schedule. Less important relationships could be subcontracted to a more president-like GG. And the threat to her independence seems overblown — supporting our UN Security Council bid by saying nice things about Australia is hardly going to imperil her standing.