Melbourne barrister and media commentator Peter Faris QC:
I am sure that Quentin Bryce is a loving mother, mother-in-law and grandmother who wants success for her family in their chosen careers.
Bill Shorten’s chosen career is that of a once faceless man, a powerbroker in the Rudd government. He was the chief executioner in the removal of Kevin Rudd. He is now favourite to remove JuliaGillard and himself become PM.
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But to do that, Labor must hold on to government — and the person who can most help them is the Governor-General who, by an amazing coincidence, is his mother-in-law Bryce.
We are facing a constitutional crisis with a striking similarity to 1975 when Malcolm Fraser stole the government from the democratically elected Gough Whitlam. That was a coup d’état by the Governor-General.
Nobody knows how the present crises will play out. The G-G may have an important role to play determining which party governs or when elections are called. These issues could arise soon or months down the track.
It defies common sense to suggest that Bryce can be independent. What do you think the family talks about when Labor powerbroker Shorten and his lovely wife and child have breakfast at Government House? Do they agree that John Howard was a great PM? Do they support Tony Abbott as the next PM?
Bryce is fatally compromised through bias, whether real or perceived. She must resign now from her position as G-G. But that will not happen because it does not suit Shorten’s ambition. He is married to the umpire’s daughter and he will want the full benefit from that powerful connection. After all, he didn’t become an ALP king maker, or rather, PM maker, without being able to tough out situations such as this.
Any half-bright constitutional lawyer can find excuses for Bryce to stay in the job, and stay she will.
Unless this issue resolves quickly, with the three independents clearly supporting one side or the other, we will inevitably have a constitutional crisis in which Labor is well placed to steal the government.
Bryce must resign or be removed by the High Court. Already several concerned citizens are discussing a court action to remove her. They should succeed, as she is plainly biased.
For Labor, it is all about power. If they have to trash the Constitution, they will. Just as Fraser did 35 years ago.
Barrister Greg Barns writes:
If you think Quentin Bryce might have a conflict of interest as Governor-General because her son-in-law is one of the federal ALP’s hatchet men, then think again. How about Bill Hayden, William McKell and Paul Hasluck? All of these men were once the Queen’s Representative in Australia and all of these man were partisan politicians to their bootlaces. Hayden led the federal ALP, had been Treasurer in the Whitlam government before that and when Bob Hawke packed him off to Yarralumla, he was Minister for Foreign Affairs. McKell, a G-G in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was a Labor Premier in New South Wales, and Hasluck was a minister in the Menzies government.
If any of these men were in the same position as Quentin Bryce today, that is, having to tread the well-worn path of commissioning a government when no party commands a majority in the parliament, would there be such a debate about conflict of interest. It’s doubtful and this is because the record suggests political bias is irrelevant.
In 1951, McKell came under strong pressure from Labor leader Ben Chifley not to grant Bob Menzies a double dissolution, but McKell did so.
And the last G-G to have to use the office’s reserve powers, John Kerr, was a Labor lawyer appointed by Gough Whitlam. As we know Kerr, despite his background and long-standing friendships with members of the Whitlam government, sacked Whitlam in 1975 when there was a risk of Supply running out. Kerr’s actions, rightly the subject of considerable debate ever since, did at least show that the office of Governor-General would appear to be above party political bias.
In any event, the capacity for Bryce to play political games in the current context is limited. As Tasmania’s Governor Peter Underwood said earlier this year after he had to deal with very similar circumstances in the Tasmanian Parliament, the duty of the Queen’s Representative is to ascertain who is “the person who can satisfy the Governor that he or she can form a government that will have the confidence of the House”. The room for political bias, even if a Queen’s representative was motivated in that way, is so limited as to be non-existent.