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Federal

Jan 29, 2014

Cosgrove a predictable choice with few question marks

Peter Cosgrove is certainly a "safe pair of hands" as Australia's next governor-general. It's also an entirely predictable pick from Tony Abbott.

Peter Cosgrove will likely do a reasonable job as governor-general. The main prerequisites for the position are community respect, an unblemished past and a small-p political sensibility — the sort Quentin Bryce, who otherwise filled the role admirably, failed to display with her comments about same-sex marriage late last year. Cosgrove certainly is well-regarded — he was Australian of the Year in 2001 — and his career suggests he has functioning political antennae.

As for an unblemished past, well, we’ll get to that.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he believes former soldiers and judges make the best governors-general. That’s a very Abbott thing to say: it lacks even his mentor John Howard’s daring in appointing a religious figure in Peter Hollingworth (another former Australian of the Year), although perhaps Abbott learnt from that debacle. It also means, based on the cultural composition of our senior judges and military personnel, that there’s little chance Abbott would appoint anyone other than an old white man, which describes every governor-general in history until the current one. But so inured are we to the dominance of that demographic in positions of power that it passes virtually unnoticed in the media.

Why exactly Abbott believes former military men make the best governors-general isn’t clear: there’s only been one since the last British governor-general, and that was Michael Jeffrey, who had the unenviable task of replacing Hollingworth. Jeffrey performed satisfactorily, but was a non-entity in the role, certainly compared to the two best governors-general of recent times: Zelman Cowen, who did so much to repair the damage done to the office by his predecessor, and William Deane.

Perhaps Abbott is, consciously or otherwise, indicating a preference for the post-war years when Yarralumla was a retirement gig for former British military figures bored with the House of Lords.

As for Cosgrove, there are a couple of questions that may, or hopefully may not, turn out to be problems during his tenure. As is well known, Cosgrove is a director of Qantas, and a long-serving one — he joined that board in 2005, and is the second-longest serving director after Garry Hounsell. He thus wears responsibility for the current dire state of Qantas as much as anyone, and won’t escape criticism if worst-case scenarios start to unfold.

Cosgrove was also commandant of Duntroon from 1996-98, an institution notorious for its hazing and bastardisation practices over the course of a century. He’s also a graduate himself of that institution. Nothing has so far emerged from the DLA Piper review of allegations of sexual abuse in Defence to suggest anything untoward happened on Cosgrove’s watch. But few knew of the case that eventually brought Peter Hollingworth down until several months after his appointment.

A final thing: John Howard spoke eminent good sense on Radio National this morning in saying that former senior politicians were too divisive for the role of governor-general. Both sides have poor form in this regard, particularly in using Yarralumla as a dumping ground for former leadership rivals — most recently Labor with the appalling appointment of Bill Hayden as final expiation of Bob Hawke’s guilt over knifing him.

Cosgrove is of course a far safer appointment. Which might be the best thing you can say about him.

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22 comments

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22 thoughts on “Cosgrove a predictable choice with few question marks

  1. Matt

    To describe Haydens appointment as GG as “appalling” is a bit over the top. Did he disgrace himself in the role? Not as I recall.

    He certainly wasn’t as bad as the that tiresome buffoon Michael Jeffry or that odious Anglican prelate Hollingworth.

    I imagine that the Lion of Timor will do the job to and acceptable standard. Shoes properly buffed and laced, not track corgi shit across the carpets when he visits Buck House and so on.

  2. SusieQ

    It is very much a typical Liberal appointment and whilst considered to be ‘safe’ it hardly shows any creativity….

  3. Frank Birchall

    I would not consider Zelman Cowen a “recent” GG (1977-1982). Moreover, I would rate Quentin Bryce ahead of him and the equal of William Deane.

  4. SusieQ

    Frank, its not that long ago for some of us!!! And its true, he did seem to work hard to restore credibility to the role after the previous incumbent.

  5. Dogs breakfast

    … small p political sensibility — the sort Quentin Bryce, who otherwise filled the role admirably, failed to display with her comments about same-sex marriage late last year.”

    God forbid that we would have a functioning human being, with a heart and a workable understanding of basic ethics, and the courage to say it, as mildly as she did.

    The faux walls around what the G-G should and shouldn’t say need to be broken down, regardless of tradition or opinion. Peter Cosgrove is a fine choice, but I doubt he will have the impact of William Deane, or Quentin Bryce, both who showed that they can speak without bringing down a government.

    God forbid that one might suggest that the Aboriginals suffered terribly, historically and now, for our landing here. Heaven help us if one uttered anything remotely pointing out that climate change is the great moral challenge of our time. Our society would surely go into meltdown if one actually suggested that denial of marriage rights to gays was a dogma from another time that should be cast off.

    Imagine a G-G with the gall so state the bleeding obvious! How frightening that would be.

    Some traditions need to be dispensed with.

    Also, Hayden wasn’t that bad, and really, all Zelman Cowen did was to stay in the lodge and not sack an elected government. A good start, but hardly praiseworthy.

  6. MJPC

    He will be handy in the role when the Hague comes out with its finding’s of the Downer/Woodside bugging fiasco, and this Government needs some friends in higher places.

    Like any good ex-military man he can say “I know nothing, nooothiing”.

  7. Matt Hardin

    If Abbott was truly serious about being the Prime Minister for reconciliation (or whatever he class it), then appointing an Indigenous person as GG might have been a good idea. I am sure that there are plenty of suitable candidates.

  8. Steven Grant Haby

    Cosgrove is perfect for this incompetent and frightening government. He ignored the numerous allegations of abuse when he was in charge at ADF Duntroon and he was a mediocre leader when head of the armed services. As a board member of Qantas total incompetence springs to mind. Abbott wants someone who will shut up and do as they are told. Military minds do NOT transfer well to the community/private sector.

  9. AR

    “a military or judicial person” – no more (im)perfect example of the status quo could be imagined.

  10. Iskandar

    What about no Governor-General at all. The post is still that of Imperial nanny over this unruly kindergarten called the Commonwealth of Australia. But if we have to have one, then agree with Dogs Breakfast, let’s have one with a broad vision and the courage to comment on the bleeding obvious.