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David Smith defends the GG

November 19th, 2003

Although being an opinion columnist gives me a great opportunity to air my views, one of the minor annoyances is that it’s customary not to respond to letters, no matter how obviously wrong they are.

But there is no such custom or constraint when it comes to blogs. David Smith (I assume the same one who announced the dismissal of the Whitlam government) has criticised my column on the constitution, which I mentioned here. Smith writes:

In their haste to continue with an open season on John Howard-appointed governors-general, some commentators, having made up their minds, do not want to be confused by the facts.

Michael Costello, former secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, criticised Governor-General Michael Jeffery for the way in which he gives the royal assent to bills passed by parliament, when they come before the Federal Executive Council (The Australian, October 24).

Costello gave details of alleged conversations between the Governor-General and ministers to illustrate the extent of the Governor-General’s interference.

But the Federal Executive Council does not deal with the royal assent, and ministers are not present when the Governor-General gives it.

Now John Quiggin, in “Our model constitution”(AFR, November 6), has followed suit. Quiggin has accused the Governor-General of politicising his position by “endorsing a policy of pre-emptive military action”. I have searched Major-General Jeffery’s speeches, and all I have found is a call for “co-operative interventionist action by the UN with a view to pre-empting bloodbaths”. That is the very opposite of what Quiggin has alleged.

Quiggin calls for a directly elected governor-general or president. Direct election of the head of state has been so roundly condemned by intelligent republicans such as a former governor-general, a former prime minister, a former chief justice of the High Court, and several legal and political academics of distinction, among many others, that it requires no further comment from me.

I can’t quite figure out Smith’s point in the second-last paragraph. Presumably he’s saying that because Jeffery called for the UN to be involved, his position was different from that of the government, though it’s still a stretch to say that the two are opposites. But I wasn’t concerned to criticise Jeffery’s position, merely to make the obvious point that it was a political one.

His final paragraph is a classic argument from authority. A former PM, a former GG and a former CJ disagree with me, therefore I must be wrong. This ancient fallacy is common, but I’ve rarely seen it in such a pure form.

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