What all governments, regardless of their political stripes, should
learn from this imbroglio and the hounding of Peter Hollingworth from
Yarralumla, is that it doesn’t pay to be too clever by half when
appointing the Vice-regal representative, writes Boilermaker Bill.
It’s abundantly clear that Richard Butler has nobody to blame but
himself (and his wife) for the events that led to his downfall. Ever
since the announcement of his appointment, it seemed that Butler’s
every public pronouncement and action carried with them the whiff of
noblesse oblige. Tasmanians, it seemed, were damn lucky to have a man
of Butler’s stature come and live amongst them as their Governor. Of
course it’s schadenfreude, but oh to be a fly on the wall when Premier
Paul Lennon made it clear to Butler that his position was untenable,
and that unless he packed his bags pretty damn quickly, he’d be found
floating in the Derwent before sun-up.

Make no mistake this is the most ignominious departure of an Australian
vice-regal representative since the Rum Corp found Governor William
Bligh hiding under his bed when they launched their coup d’etat.
Incidentally, if Butler finds the task of packing and leaving too
daunting, perhaps he should give Nicholas Whitlam a call – according to
yesterday’s Strewth column in The Oz, Margaret called in Nick
and his wife to help with the packing when she and Gough needed to be
out of Kirribilli by midnight on the day of the Dismissal.

Incidentally, when it comes to getting rid of the Queen’s man, Citizen
Murdoch can put another notch on his belt. Maybe HRH should run future
appointments by the applicable News outlet. (Another thought: what
would subsequent events have looked like if Gough had appointed Rupert
as High Commissioner in London?)

Lennon will no doubt find a worthy and duly appreciative Tasmanian to
fill Butler’s shoes, which might have a few marks on them considering
the frequency with which Butler put his foot in his mouth. Lennon
undoubtedly relished the opportunity to undo the error to which Jim
Bacon reportedly confessed on his deathbed.

But it was all so inevitable. What all governments, regardless of their
political stripes, should learn from this imbroglio and the hounding of
Peter Hollingworth from Yarralumla, is that it doesn’t pay to be too
clever by half when appointing the Vice-regal representative. Howard’s
selection of Hollingworth to provide a rightwards tilt to the role of
G-G after the bleeding heart tendencies of William Deane was always
going to attract the keen scrutiny of the media, who quite enjoyed the
Coalition’s obvious discomfort at Deane’s forays into social policy.
The media’s curiosity was no doubt piqued by suggestions that
Hollingworth and his wife were so enamoured of their roles that they
risked being the first Vice-regal couple since Sir John and Lady (Anne)
Kerr to give off the whiff that they thought themselves larger than the
office of G-G.

Similarly, Bacon’s appointment of Butler was the mark of a Premier who,
wanting to capitalise on the booming Tasmanian economy and growing
international reputation, thought he’d made a clever choice in
appointing a man with apparent credentials and connections across the
world. It’s a pity that Bacon did not realise that people who would
pick up the phone when Butler was the UN weapons supremo would be
scratching their heads at the mention of a call from the Governor of
Tasmania (“What? The Governor of Tasmania? Where’s that? I’m not sure,
it might be near Wyoming?”). And the prospect of getting foreign
potentates to visit when they realised just how close Tasmania is to
Antarctica? In the words of John Howard, “to use the Australian
vernacular, ‘bugger all’!”

The lesson from all this, and one that should be learnt by proponents
of the appointment of the President of an Australian republic, is that
a steady hand is much much preferable to a flashy, showy appointment.
Look elsewhere: John Landy and Marjorie Jackson-Nelson were perfect
appointments. Known to the public as sporting stars, their post Olympic
lives (Landy with his career in science and conservation, and
Jackson-Nelson founding a foundation in the name of her late husband to
conduct leukaemia research) were sufficiently sound to suppose that
they would make a smooth transition to their Vice-regal posts.

In NSW, both side of politics have generally chosen their appointments
well. Neville Wran extended the term of Sir Roden Cutler, realising
that there was no better person for the post. The subsequent
appointments of military men (Sir James Rowland, Sir David Martin and
Peter Sinclair) and a judge (Gordon Samuels) were safe choices. Apart
from Bob Carr’s ham fisted efforts at modernising the
Governor’s role by shifting them out of Government and getting them to
live in their own house, there’s hardly been any controversy
surrounding the Governor. The only hint of contention came about
towards the end of Peter Sinclair’s term. When there was a real
prospect of a hung Parliament from the 1995 election results, there was
a perception in some quarters that if Sinclair had to make a choice, he
would be more naturally inclined to offer the Coalition the first
opportunity to form a government. In the end, Sinclair was not forced
to make the choice.

The present governor of NSW, Marie Bashir, came to the role after a
long and distinguished career in psychiatry, mental health and child
and adolescent health. While no sports star, Governor Bashir came with
an inbuilt advantage – her husband, Sir Nicholas Shehadie, former Lord
Mayor of Sydney, was a former Wallaby, with his rugby past making him
probably better known than his wife. In any event, NSW definitely got
two outstanding individuals for the price of one.

So what should Lennon do about choosing a new Governor? Well, he could
always get someone to track down the phone number for David Boon. Or
maybe he could send a strong message on his attitude to forestry and
logging by putting champion woodcutter, David Foster, in the job.
Needless to say, non-Tasmanians need not apply.

Peter Fray

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