Busy week for the GG’s secretary. The appointment of the new Governor General has not only been an occasion for journalists generally to praise the appointment of Quentin Bryce but also for some of them to take a cheap snipe or two at the way the incumbent Major General Michael Jeffery has performed the role and His Excellency is clearly not too happy about the criticism. His official secretary, Malcolm Hazell, has been active at the word processor sending letters to the editor defending the General’s record as the Australian head of state and whether that is a wise thing to do or not it t least raises the question of what the role of a GG actually should be.

General Jeffery was savaged by Steve Lewis writing in the Murdoch tabloids as “a disappointment, serving for almost five years without distinction”. According to Lewis he seemed stuck in the past and appeared mute during much of his term in office. “He will not be remembered for one piercing insight or for one great contribution to the national debate,” the article said before going on to predict a far more activist role for the Queensland Governor Quentin Bryce when she moves in at Yarralumla.

Hazell as the vice regal defender wrote to the editor of the Herald Sun and accused Lewis of relying “on Press Gallery scuttlebutt and half-baked surveys to inform his portrait of a man who has served his country for over 50 years as a decorated soldier, Governor and Governor-General, and who with his wife Marlena, are known for their charm, compassion and dedication. ” In a letter to the editor of the Sunday Mail responding to an article by Christopher Bantick he suggested the author would have benefited from some basic research. “He quotes surveys,” Hazell wrote. “In a survey published by your own newspaper group, 96.1% of online voters agreed with the Governor-General’s comments about youth. So much for being out of touch.”

For my part I find it difficult to understand the criticism of General Jeffery. To me he seems to have had an understanding that his role should most of the time be a ceremonial and symbolic one. But whereas the British do not want the Queen to be acting and talking as if she actually runs their country, many Australian journalists seem to prefer the activism of a Sir William Deane who often seemed to be doing just that when Governor General. Sir William, to my mind, crossed the line by injecting himself into political debate and I would far prefer the next GG to follow the Jeffery model than the Deane. I hope Governor General Bryce does not listen to the entreaties of those like Steve Lewis who would have an unelected figure head telling the nation what it should and should not do.

The problem to come with climate change. All the nonsense being talked by the Federal Government about its efforts to keep down petrol prices is a perfect illustration of the problem to come when it stops talking about the need to curb carbon dioxide emissions and starts doing something about it. Labor keeps telling us that reducing emissions is essential and the best way of achieving that is by increasing the price of things like petrol that causes them. So why all this effort to reduce the petrol price? Logic suggests the Government should be happy that oil companies in reacting to higher crude oil prices are doing the job for it. Perhaps the answer is provided by some work done in the United States by the polling group American Environics who last year found that voters consistently rated energy costs as a higher concern than global warming, and resisted policies that would increase the cost of electricity and gasoline. The survey, jointly conducted by American Environics and EMC Research ranked global warming dead last of the 16 issues tested, trailing the cost of gas and electricity, dependence on foreign oil, and even “quality of the environment.” Voter concern over the cost of gas and electricity was evident in a number of question responses, from both a strong preference for proposals to lower the cost of clean energy (68%) over proposals designed to reduce consumption by making dirty energy more expensive (18%), to a majority opposing a carbon tax (58%) with 39% strongly opposing such an action. The poll also divided the sample to observe the effects of various psychological primes on global warming public opinion, including using specific consequences of global warming expressed by the environmental community such as the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Telling voters about these consequences did not increase their desire to take action on global warming. “Telling voters that global warming will lead to environmental disaster did not lead to increased support for action on global warming,” noted Dr. John Whaley who conducted the survey for American Environics. “In addition, when voters were told that specific proposals would lead to higher energy costs, support for policies to limit carbon dropped dramatically.”

The height of back fences. The inventors of Colorbond fencing, I have decided, have a lot to answer for. My landlord has just erected one of these monsters around the house I rent and the pleasant exchanges I used to have with the neighbours have now come to a halt. Throughout Australia they are changing society for the worse.

The Daily Reality Check

“I wonder how long it will take for people to start bagging Quentin Bryce’s appearance,” wrote Catherine Deveny in the The Age this week. In a witty and entertaining piece with a serious point to it, Deveny said society was very confused about what women should be. “A 1950s housewife, a corporate supermum, a neat size eight two weeks after giving birth, a wordless beauty, a devoted mother working part-time or a feisty ball-breaker in suspenders and stilettos.” The German Chancellor Angela Merkel would understand that comment. She has been featuring in the world’s press for wearing a low-cut dress to the opening of the Oslo Opera House.

The London Daily Mail headlined the picture of the Chancellor at the opera with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg “Merkel’s Weapons of Mass Distraction.” That was in the same tradition of the British tabloids which saw the London Sun back in 2006 publish photos of Chancellor Merkel changing into a bathing suit while on vacation in Italy under the headline “Big in the Bumdestag.” The German news magazine Der Spiegel reports that Merkel usually appears in “much more sensible pant-suits with low shoes.”

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

Get out the egg beater and whip up a bit of queer bashing. The Daily Telegraph excelled itself this morning by distorting a few comments by a NSW Education Department bureaucrat to suggest schools were going to ban use of the words Mum and Dad so that children of homosexual couples did not feel left out. “Teachers are being urged,” the Tele splashed all over its front page, “to stop using terms such as husband and wife when addressing students or families under a major anti-homophobia push in schools. The terms boyfriend, girlfriend and spouse are also on the banned list – to be replaced by the generic “partner” – in changes sought by the gay lobby aimed at reducing discrimination in classrooms. Schools are coming under pressure to provide lessons for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and stack their libraries with books and videos covering their issues.” All this based on remarks by Education Director-General Michael Coutts-Trotter that public schools had a responsibility to include children from same s-x couples and allow no discrimination. It did not take long for the denials from the Government to start coming. They were on the radio by 8am but were still not on the Tele‘s website at midday. Never let the truth come between a tabloid and a good story.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey