Governor-General Michael Jeffrey has been criticised, again, for political comments, this time backing George Bush against Mark Latham. Such criticism, in my view, is obsolete. Although he was more subtle about it, Jeffrey’s predecessor-but-one, William Deane made his disagreement with some of the more brutal policies of the current government pretty clear. The attempt to restore the status of the GG as an impressive nonentity was tried with Peter Hollingworth, and failed miserably. Next time around, not surprisingly, Howard chose to play it safe and appoint a Liberal party loyalist.
The real problem is with the GG position itself. It is now inherently political, but the appointment is entirely in the personal gift of the PM. This is most unsatisfactory, particularly when a change of government produces a situation where the GG and PM are of opposite parties. Under our current system, this will produce increasing pressure for the GG to resign when the government that appointed him/her loses office.
The only adequate remedy is direct election. A directly elected GG (or President) would be free to speak out on public issues from time to time, while maintaining a primarily ceremonial role. The case for direct election would be even stronger if we became a republic, but it’s overwhelming in any case.
Hat tips: The title of this post is from a book by David Solomon and Ken Parish revived the idea a while back.