Speculation
over why former republican Richard Butler quit as Tasmania’s
governor-general last year has been reignited after Mark Latham claimed
in his Diaries that Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon said Butler was turfed for getting drunk at the Danish Royal wedding.

“At
one stage, he [Lennon] even gave me a burst about Richard Butler, the
recently dismissed Tasmanian governor: `You were complaining about
Butler’s payout. But do you know why I had to sack him? Do you know
what really happened? He got pissed at the wedding and carried on,
that’s why he had to go’,” writes Latham.

The claim offered
local political observers an interesting new angle on the mystery of
Butler’s sudden resignation and $650,000 payout, which have never been
fully explained.

Guests at the wedding have flatly denied claims
Butler was pissed (see story below), but Latham’s version of events was
hotly debated in the Tasmanian parliament yesterday, sparking this front page yarn in today’s Mercury. The paper, which led the campaign against Butler in the months before his resignation, reports:

When Mr Butler left the office of governor in August last
year Mr Lennon said he had “voluntarily surrendered his commission for
the good of Tasmania.”

Mr Lennon gifted Mr Butler a $650,000 payout that was not legally required, citing “natural justice.”

He
subsequently declined to explain whether Mr Butler had done anything
wrong, instead blaming the governor’s departure on a media campaign
against Mr Butler that was “damaging Tasmania’s good name.”

The
claim that Butler was drunk at the wedding gained momentum when Lennon
refused to deny discussing the Butler resignation with Latham.
According to The Mercury:

Mr Lennon was asked numerous times in Parliament yesterday
whether he had discussed Mr Butler with Mr Latham but he refused to
answer.

Mr Lennon was also asked repeatedly whether Mr Butler had to go because of poor behaviour. He would not answer.

Nor
would he reveal, when asked, whether he had fielded complaints about Mr
Butler’s behaviour at the royal nuptials in Copenhagen.

Greg Barns, sometime Crikey contributor and
Tasmanian political insider, says the Latham claim “just doesn’t stack
up with the facts. When [Butler’s secretary] John Chilcott resigned, that
was the catalyst for his problems. When all his staff started to
resign. It had nothing to do with the wedding.”

“There were a
series of issues and incidents where he’d been essentially offensive to
people,” says Barns. “The wedding rumours were floating around at the
time, but I just don’t believe Latham’s account. The bitterness that
Latham has towards Lennon is extraordinary. I prefer the word of Lennon
over Latham. Actually I’m surprised these diaries haven’t been pulped
yet. It seems remarkable that people aren’t taking action.”

Tasmanian
Opposition Leader Rene Hidding said the state Liberals never believed
Mr Butler resigned voluntarily last year. He told The Mercury
“the crux of the issue was whether the Premier might have potentially
breached the Criminal Code by bargaining for public office – in effect
offering Mr Butler a $650,000 inducement in return for his quitting.”

The key question now is whether Butler will sue Latham. On the face of it, it looks as though he’d have a pretty good case.

Peter Fray

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Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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