August 10, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Premier Lennon confirms his “no nonsense” reputation, and Governor Butler packs his bags.

THE departure of Richard Butler as Governor of Tasmania has been exactly how I thought it would be – very quick, and at the instigation or insistence of Tasmania’s new Premier, Paul Lennon.
Readers may recall that when Paul Lennon became Premier in February I commented on this site that he was a no nonsense politician, who gave no quarter and asked for none in return.
I sensed then his relationship with His Excellency Richard Butler, in his first year as Governor, would be very different from that Jim Bacon obviously had.
It did not take long to prove me right. Within weeks, the new Premier issued one of those terse statements I enjoy – very brief, but as clear as a crystal glass.
After the Governor make a speech or two on foreign policy, the Premier made it very clear he had informed the Governor, and the Governor had agreed, he would not be making any more statements or speeches on domestic politics or foreign policy!
To me that was the “beginning of the end” for His Excellency. Richard Butler has always had an inflated view of his own importance, and the public “put down” by the Premier must have been galling.
In recent weeks, the Hobart Mercury newspaper, and other sections of the media, and the Tasmanian community, have given the Governor and his wife a tough time, perhaps deserved, but as tough as I have seen, and even tougher than the “ride” the national media gave Dr Peter Hollingworth in the second year of his tenure as Governor General.
Clearly the Governor, and his wife, were uncomfortable with the totally restricted role State Governors MUST play.
Once all his senior staff resigned last week, and the Governor and his Lady had some spectacular run-ins with the media, his fate was sealed.
Returning to Hobart on Sunday afternoon, to a media reception the like of which Hobart has probably never seen, the Governor soon found himself preparing for a “meeting” with the Premier last night. By the end of the “meeting” the Governor had resigned, with immediate effect!
Paul Lennon, not to my surprise, had wasted no time in getting rid of someone who had become a very considerable “political problem”.
The Butler “experiment” was probably always doomed to fail.
Not only were the Butler’s entirely unsuited to the constraints of the Vice Regal Office, they were never going to have a good relationship with a new Premier with a well deserved reputation for being a non nonsense politician.
One suspects the “agenda” for the meeting was a one liner – “timing of resignation and transitional arrangements!”
The recent history of State Governors behaving badly, or inadequately, is an interesting one. Just about every State had had its problems with its Vice Regal representatives, with the singular and notable exception of Queensland!
For the last 20 years, both Labor and National Premiers of Queensland have pretty well got it right in their selection of Vice Regal representatives.
And on three occasions over the last 20 years, the Governor of Queensland has been put in a position where the Vice Regal role in ensuring stable Government has been on stand-by, if not actually called upon.
On each occasion, the incumbent, has behaved impeccably – and the good and stable government of Queensland has been the beneficiary.
The first occasion was in late 1987 when Sir Walter Benjamin Campbell (appointed 1985) “declined” to sack a swag of Ministers Sir Johannes Bjelke- Petersen (elected 1968) wanted to remove in a last, desperate effort to hang on to power in the face of a revolt by his own Party.
His carefully crafted requirement that Sir Joh demonstrate that he had Party, and possibly Parliamentary, support hastened the end of the 20 year Bjelke-Petersen era, and ensured a smooth transition to the Ahern Government, though the Governor required the newly-sworn Premier to confirm he had majority Parliamentary support.
History will regard very highly the skilful way Sir Walter handled what must have been a very tense and difficult situation. The State ought to always be grateful to him for it.
The second test came after the 1995 elections when the Goss Government lost its effective Parliamentary majority when the Court of Disputed Returns declared the seat of Mundingburra vacant. The Governor, Leneen Forde, (appointed 1992) managed the situation with great dignity, and contributed to a smooth, mid term transition from the Goss Labor Government to the Borbidge National-Liberal in 1996.
The third occasion was potentially the most challenging of all, and came after the 1998 State Election when neither the Borbidge Government nor the Beattie Opposition won a Parliamentary majority.
The Governor appointed by the Borbidge Government, Major General Peter Arnison, again handled the situation with total propriety, resulting in an orderly transition to the Beattie Government after it gained the support of the Independent holding the balance of power.
It is worthy of note that all three Governors had their terms extended by a Premier of a difficult political persuasion to the one who appointed them! That is a true vote of confidence if ever there was one.
The post-war history of Queensland Governors is one marked by distinguished service, with but one hiccup. In 1975, the then Governor, Sir Colin Thomas Hannah, (appointed 1972), commented on the federal political situation, resulting in the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, withdrawing his commission to act as Administrator in the absence of the Governor General. (interestingly, it was not re-instated by Malcolm Fraser).
Unquestionably the most popular Governor in the State’s history was Sir Henry Abel Smith (appointed 1958) who travelled very extensively throughout Queensland in an ear in which travel was not as easy as it is today. The fact that Lady May Abel Smith was a relation of The Queen did not do his standing any harm!
A competent Governor, with both feet firmly planed on the ground, can do good things for the community. The incumbent, Quentin Bryce, is following in the very sound tradition of her recent predecessors.
Perhaps Premier Lennon might send whoever he appoints as the next Governor of Tasmania to Queensland for some “tuition” on what to do and what not to do, from Sir Walter Campbell, Leneen Forde and Peter Arnison?
I was about to add that Richard Butler might not be packing his bags had be been given that tuition as well. But I seriously doubt it would have made any difference!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 9:51 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. NSW has had a pretty good trot with Governors too – Sir Roden Cutler springs to mind, but credit is also due to Marie Bashir whose ethnicity and gender may perhaps have come into (PC) play when considering appointees, has nonetheless discharged her duties with dignity and grace.

    Comment by Craig G — August 10, 2004 @ 10:19 am

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