An Address by His Excellency to Mark His Completion of Twelve Months in the Office of Governor
Deputy Premier, Acting Chief Justice, Leader of the Opposition, Your Honours, Your Grace, General, Professors, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys…
It is Kaye’s and my great privilege and pleasure to welcome you all to Fernberg this evening, as we gather on the lands traditionally tended by the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, for whom I at once express great respect.
Only twenty-five Governors have preceded me since Sir George Bowen arrived in 1859. Sir George by the way was a true plenipotentiary: as a benevolent dictator, he alone effectively ordained the basis of our State system of government.
By the end of their terms, all twenty-five had extraordinary stories to tell. And it was usually at the end of their terms that they told them – necessarily compressed.
This evening, the first anniversary of my being sworn-in, provides an opportunity to speak early in the term about our experience. There is much of interest which may be said, even after only a year.
After all, it is not every job which can encompass, in its first twelve months, seeking to support Queenslanders in adversity following natural disaster, discussing with Indigenous Queenslanders at Cherbourg, Bamaga and Thursday and Yorke Islands the futures they want to create, speaking to tens of thousands of Queenslanders gathered for a Dawn Service on the Centenary of Gallipoli, having a private audience with The Queen, and deciding who according to the people’s will governs Queensland.
I at once acknowledge the worthwhile role of the Government House website and the daily Vice-Regal Notices in communicating what the Governor does.
But in 2015, more frankly can be done to reach a broader audience more quickly. That is why I have deliberately established a foothold in the Twittersphere. That is why there is now an official and active Governor of Queensland Facebook page.
This evening’s address is in that same spirit: Kaye and I are keen to share with the community our experiences in the vice-regal role sooner rather than later. And so the event is being, as they say, “live streamed”.
I have shepherded these remarks into the “three Cs” of a Governor’s role: constitutional, ceremonial, and community.
I begin by informing you, Chief Scout’s honour – and I am Chief Scout in Queensland, that Angelina Jolie makes an appearance later in this address. I regret to say that it is not in person. But neither is there any fee involved.
In advance of her pro bono appearance, I borrow the title of a film she directed, some of it shot in South East Queensland. The film is Unbroken, and the word serves as the theme for my remarks under the “constitutional” section.
I refer, of course, to the stresses placed on Queensland’s constitutional arrangements following the State election of the 31st of January.
The epithet is apt to describe the successful outcome of this test of our system. Despite the stresses and strains, it emerged from the test “unbroken”.
The election outcome brought about an unusual state of affairs.
First, neither major party secured a majority in its own right – the so-called “hung parliament”.
Second, a sitting Premier lost his seat, only the second time this has happened in Queensland. The first was in 1915.
Third, the election result brought into the spotlight the workings of the constitutional mechanisms to resolve the situation and give Queensland a government. These do not normally sit at the top of Queenslanders’ everyday concerns. Nor are they usually prominent in the media, much less the lead story.
Fourth, the situation created an early challenge for a Governor who had been in the job for all of six months, and whose lawyer’s grasp of constitutional theory was a bit rusty.
At the time, I did wonder if it was mere coincidence that the Australian and New Zealand Chief Justices gave me, as a farewell gift, a copy of H.V. Evatt’s book, The King and his Dominion Governors.
Or if the Official Secretary at Government House was acting on a premonition when he supplied me, well in advance of the swearing-in, with a comprehensive range of reading material on the constitutional role of a Governor.
All that said, the core document for this discussion is not a learned text, but the Constitution of Queensland Act 2001.
I rely on Section 29 (1) of the Act: There must be a Governor of Queensland.
That clears up why I am here tonight.
But the Constitution was unhelpful in telling me what I should be considering over those two weeks between election and government.
Our system relies heavily on custom and convention.
There has long been an unwritten agreement within the political class that, no matter how robustly party politics are played, certain constitutional processes and procedures will apply and be respected.
Paradoxically, it is this outwardly fragile amalgam of written rules and unwritten convention which has given Queensland’s system of government its essential stability for over 150 years. It did so again earlier this year.
I was out of Queensland when on the 5th of January 2015 the Premier proposed to the then Acting Governor the calling of the election for the 31st of that month. (The election was called unexpectedly early, during the usual vacation period). The principal issue which no doubt engaged the Acting Governor when issuing the writs was the assurance of supply during the ensuing period of caretaker government.
At this general election, the governing party, the LNP, won 42 of the 89 seats in the Legislative Assembly, three seats short of a majority in its own right.
The ALP won 44 seats out of 89, one short of a majority.
Three independents were elected.
Negotiations between the major parties and the independents ensued. On the 5th of February, one of the independents, Peter Wellington MP, now Speaker, publicly pledged his support for the ALP on votes of confidence and supply, with certain caveats.
The two Katter Party MPs did not formally declare support for either major party.
Naturally, I was aware of these developments through conventional and social media (and I thank the media for discharging its role in informing us all about what is going on, and why).
However, I was kept directly informed through timely telephone discussions, starting as early as the morning after the election, and face-to-face meetings with the leaders of the two main parties and our respective officers.
I met the then Premier, Campbell Newman (and then Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, and Solicitor General, Peter Dunning), at Premier Newman’s request, on the 5th of February. Premier Newman updated me on the distribution of seats, provided advice to the effect that caretaker government could continue, and assured me that Ministers had been fulfilling, and were prepared to continue to fulfil (as was he), for as long as was necessary, their obligations.
At this stage, it was nearly a week since polling day, and an Electoral Commission of Queensland poll declaration, my office was advised, was likely to take at least another week.
In the context of this close overall result, the close vote in a number of seats, the extended (and further anticipated) period of caretaker government, and the fact that the Premier had on election night conceded his seat, I considered it appropriate to offer the Leader of the Opposition, Ms Annastasia Palaszczuk, a similar opportunity to update me.
Premier Newman called on me again on the 10th of February and tendered his resignation as Premier, to take effect from the appointment of a successor Premier. He once again reassured me that caretaker government would continue for as long as necessary. At 11.54am, I Tweeted – which was, as it transpired, a most convenient and effective method of keeping the media and wider public updated on my decision-making – my intention to commission a new Premier following the poll declaration.
Later on the 10th of February Ms Palaszczuk took up my offer of the 6th of February, and called to update me on the current situation.
She indicated that she had secured the support of Mr Wellington, and that she had obtained independent legal advice supporting her claim to form government, should she be invited to do so. As I had indicated to Premier Newman earlier that day, and subsequently Tweeted, I advised Ms Palaszczuk that I would await the poll declaration before commissioning a new Premier.
The Electoral Commission declared the results on the 13th of February. That established the sound basis on which to make my decision.
I accepted that Ms Palaszczuk had the support of Mr Wellington on matters of confidence and supply. That gave her a majority of 45 seats on the floor of Parliament. This would continue to be the case when one of those 45 MPs was appointed Speaker, as the Speaker retains a casting vote.
My primary constitutional obligation as Governor was to appoint as Premier the person who, at the declaration of the polls, would hold the confidence of the Legislative Assembly. This meant that I should commission Ms Palaszczuk as Premier.
Also on the 13th of February, I met at Government House with the new leader of the LNP, Mr Springborg, and shortly thereafter with Ms Palaszczuk.
I invited Ms Palaszczuk to form government and to recall Parliament as soon as possible to demonstrate majority support. That support was demonstrated very early on the morning of the 27th of March, two days after I formally opened Queensland’s 55th Parliament.
All these conversations were calm and respectful. Despite the high political stakes and the closeness of the result, the conventions were respected.
Having over about 40 years endured countless courtroom brawls, as Counsel and as Judge, I had wondered how these meetings at the vice-regal level would play out, given the highly charged political atmosphere. I must say that I was greatly impressed by the measure, and courtesy, of those with whom I met.
The Electoral Commissioner completed the election process on the 15th of February when he returned the writ inscribed with the handwritten names of all 89 elected Members.
Two other developments warrant mention.
The first was the discovery that one of the candidates for the seat of Ferny Grove had not been eligible to stand for election.
As a result of that unfortunate anomaly, the Electoral Commission flagged that it intended to refer the result in Ferny Grove to the Court of Disputed Returns.
Some commentators suggested that no government should be commissioned until the situation in Ferny Grove was resolved and that, in the meantime, the previous government should remain in place, in caretaker mode.
This brought into my mind how long under Queensland’s constitutional framework a Premier or Minister in these circumstances could maintain a commission without holding a seat in Parliament; as it transpired, it was unnecessary to fully test the limits of precedents in similar jurisdictions.
This argument – awaiting a Ferny Grove resolution – depended for its force on a series of hypothetical events whose timescale and outcome were uncertain.
My focus, in any case, was on constitutional principle; on which party could command a majority of votes on the floor of the parliament.
As it happened, the result in Ferny Grove was not referred to the Court of Disputed Returns.
I was also aware, secondly, of calls for my decision to be made rapidly. I understood the genuine concern behind these comments and the potential impact of continuing uncertainty on the State.
However, my role was to give the right, not rushed decision, a decision based on the facts on the ground and constitutional principle. In this case, achieving that goal demanded patience – from me, but also on the part of many others: the candidates; the people; and journalists and their supporters who clung uncomplainingly to the fences of Fernberg over quite some days. I admired their endurance at a warmish time of the year – the occasional lime cordial may not have gone astray.
The experience of those first two weeks in February highlighted to me the importance of the role of the Governor as a non-political decision-maker applying constitutional principle in an independent manner. I know that a lot of people shared that view.
My Tweet announcing that I would invite Ms Palaszczuk to form government was exposed to nearly 120,000 Twitter users. More than 42,000 people viewed the election posts on the Governor of Queensland Facebook page.
One final observation, if I may, on matters constitutional: as the nation’s longest-serving State Governor – curious isn’t it – I am potential Administrator of the Commonwealth, should the Governor-General be out of the country. I see this as a great honour for Queensland. This last happened in the term of the 21st Governor, Sir Walter Campbell. I have already performed this role a few times. The first was to open a water recycling plant in Sarina – my first infrastructure opening (actually a sewerage reticulation plant, and very impressive at that!)
Now to matters ceremonial, perhaps a welcome change in direction.
My ceremonial duties derive from my constitutional position as the representative in Queensland of our Head of State, Her Majesty The Queen. I am frequently involved in events involving some degree of ceremony, from opening local agricultural shows to opening Parliament.
I am conscious at these times that Queenslanders are known for their reluctance to “stand on ceremony”. It is a part of the Queensland character liked and even absorbed by visitors, including VIPs. I doubt there have been many G20 meetings like Brisbane’s, where the German Chancellor, with minimal security, went on a mini-pub crawl down Caxton Street.
However there are times when formality serves an important purpose.
The best kind is aimed less at making those involved feel important but more at highlighting the significance of the event taking place. Formality of this kind invokes continuity, a sense of shared experience, and connects us with the past and, in a sense, with the future.
The Dawn Service on ANZAC Day this year was a prime example.
This ceremony is now a highly valued way of commemorating our war dead. It involves military tradition – the mounting of the catafalque party, and the playing of the Last Post; and other traditional elements: the minute’s silence, the laying of wreaths, and the reciting of the Ode of Remembrance.
It is a communal act of remembering, of respect, of pride and of sadness. The repetition each year of the same ceremonial gestures links us with generations who experienced them before us. It encourages succeeding generations to continue observing the tradition.
The ceremony on 25 April certainly concentrated my mind. When I moved to the podium at 4.21am, those thousands of upturned faces, young and old, brought home to me, in the strongest terms, my responsibilities as Governor. I have subsequently regarded this as probably my most important public presentation so far.
I strove through my address to meet community expectations to capture those elements of respect, pride and sadness.
I was immensely struck by the privilege of presuming to speak, for us all, on such an historic occasion.
Consistently, meeting with the families of soldiers under deployment at Gallipoli Barracks a couple of months ago was, for me, a most humbling experience. Their sacrifice, and that of their loved ones serving in our defence forces, should always be widely acknowledged, and with profound gratitude.
I again thank you, Major General Smith, for being with me that day, and for your enduring support and service.
My involvement in military ceremony is not confined to ANZAC Day. There is for example a tradition of presenting colours, standards and banners to military units, a tradition going back to the time of the Roman legions.
It is important to our armed forces, and it is carried out with solemnity. I was very proud to share in that long tradition in presenting Colours to the 9th Battalion, the Royal Queensland Regiment, last year.
Formality is also a feature of Government House ceremonies at which Queenslanders receive honours and awards under the Australian honours system. There have been 13 of them so far in my term, honouring 265 recipients including bravery awards.
Being invested with the highest honours your country can bestow is unequivocally a very special occasion. To go about it without due ceremony would sell our marvellous Queensland recipients cruelly short.
Government House puts enormous effort into making these days special. The recipients and their families are most appreciative.
The opening of a new Queensland Parliament is also an event conducted with substantial ceremony and ritual, and rightly so.
The traditions were inherited from the Mother Parliament at Westminster. They symbolise, among other things, the primacy of an elected assembly over the monarch and his or her representatives. This is a principle at the heart of our democracy. We would take it for granted at our peril.
To ensure the next generation understand these traditions, Kaye and I were keen to ensure that students from Queensland schools attended the Opening of Parliament. It was a great joy for us that students and teachers from the schools of my youth were present. The enjoyment of the students was palpable, as it was when they so wonderfully lined the driveway on our first gubernatorial arrival at Fernberg one year ago.
The private audience Kaye and I were privileged to have with Her Majesty The Queen at Buckingham Palace last October straddles both the constitutional and the ceremonial.
It is constitutional because I am Her Majesty’s representative in Queensland. It is ceremonial because, not surprisingly, such an event involves substantial protocol.
On arrival at the Palace, we were guided through a series of wonderfully impressive rooms by a succession of courteous and professional Royal Household staff, until ushered by an equerry into the waiting area outside the audience chamber, the ‘1844 Room’.
Cue Angelina Jolie! Ms Jolie was granted the audience immediately preceding ours, to be admitted as an honorary Dame in the Order of the British Empire. Her husband – you may also have heard of him, Brad, I believe – and their children, were waiting nearby.
That may have been a brush with show business royalty, but it paled in significance when we met with the person from whom my authority as Governor derives.
Her Majesty was most engaging and gracious. She shared with us vivid memories of being in Queensland and this very House. She gave me valued advice on the role of Governor of this State, whose vastness she emphasized.
At the time I had been in the role for all of 73 days. Her Majesty had been monarch for nearly 23,000 days. I listened attentively.
And we left inspired and buoyed by Her Majesty’s truly gracious expression of best wishes for our vice-regal term. This audience is ceremonially described as the “kissing of hands” – though I may reveal that doesn’t actually happen.
I now move to the final of my three ‘Cs’: “inspiring” is unequivocally the word to describe my community role as Governor.
When sworn in, I pledged to support, encourage and inspire all Queenslanders and to seek to promote cohesion, goodwill and mutual respect in our communities.
Of course, carrying out my constitutional duties with calm deliberation supports these aspirations.
But the most direct way of achieving them is to engage with as many Queenslanders as is practicable, face-to-face. And what a privilege that is!
This is not a fair-weather undertaking. Kaye and I know we must be out in the community in tough times as well as good times.
In March this year, we visited communities in Central Queensland devastated by Cyclone Marcia. The resilience of the people we met was humbling. Though still shocked at the aftermath of the cyclone, they were determined to re-build, repair, and resume their lives.
We saw at first hand the work of organisations whose planning and preparation minimised harm to life and limb. We met personnel from emergency services, the police service, local governments, and organisations like Red Cross and the Salvos bringing both practical assistance and compassion. We encountered an impromptu “mud army” at Thangool; neighbours, friends and strangers pitching in to help those worst affected.
“Thank you” seems a woefully inadequate response. But our wonderful Queenslanders do have our wholehearted gratitude for their generosity and selfless service.
Cyclones and floods are short-lived violent events. By contrast, the drought in our State is a slow-burn natural disaster. It has been severely testing people’s reserves of hope and strength for years.
We have travelled through the worst-hit areas to reassure the families and communities that they remain in the thoughts of all Queenslanders. And we gained the strong impression that our visits lifted spirits in the bush.
It is one thing to read about the drought. It is entirely another to look across vast, bare, bone-dry landscapes under mocking blue skies. We have been deeply moved by the strength, resilience and mutual support shown by the worst-affected communities.
We have used the resources of Government House as best we can to support these Queenslanders in adversity, holding functions here for those affected by or involved in managing natural disasters. We have been delighted to have families from drought-affected areas, and mayors from regions hit by Cyclone Marcia, stay as our guests at Government House.
We have hosted many other specific-purpose functions here – dinners as well as receptions to highlight the contributions of Queenslanders over a wide variety of fields including the professions, business and trade, education, science, the arts, not-for profit organisations supporting admirable causes, and philanthropy.
We have also been out and about in this enormous State, making 39 regional visits so far, from Goondiwindi to the Torres Strait, Toowoomba to Boulia, and west of Winton.
It remains a challenge, after 150 years, to find places not already visited by previous Governors.
But I did manage one – Byfield State School north east of Rockhampton, which stood squarely in the path of Cyclone Marcia, and what a great thrill it was to meet those children with trauma – for them – such a recent experience. Superbly turned out, and proud parents standing by them.
Kaye and I were deeply saddened to hear of the disastrous fire at the Winton Waltzing Matilda Centre. We had a wonderful time there, and in Winton and Boulia regions more generally, in April. We were hosted by generous, big-hearted Queenslanders. At the Centre, they even allowed me to play the piano in public, a woefully inadequate rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’! It attracted a disproportionate social media response, disproportionate, that is, to the quality of the rendition.
We send our best wishes to the Winton community as they rebuild.
More generally let this be clear: our vast drought-stricken West needs visitors, visitors spending money.
I trust you will excuse my now indulging in a few final personal observations.
Everywhere on our travels and here in Brisbane we have been fortunate to meet many, many of our fellow Queenslanders, many thousands here at Government House at community and ceremonial events; for example, four thousand came to our ‘Christmas Lights’ event, and four thousand to Open Day on Queensland Day.
Other Queenslanders we have sought out, arranging a busy program of visits for significant events and commemorations and to meet those who are dedicated to assisting and supporting people in need. Our admiration for them all knows no bounds.
One of the less obvious personal benefits of this role is that, for the first time in many years, I can work from home. It is great – for me – not to have to drive 15 kilometres to visit my wife during the day; I simply walk upstairs from my Study!
And what a home this is, inextricably linked to our State’s history for the past 150 years!
We are honoured to have been in residence when the most recent additions, expanding and enhancing equitable access to the House, were completed. They are a stunning complement to this otherwise distinguished edifice.
And we are about to release a second edition publication highlighting Fernberg’s historical and heritage significance, updated to include these expansions and the Estate grounds.
We are also exceptionally fortunate in that our busy schedules are supported by a marvellous team of professionals, here at Government House, the Executive Council Secretariat, at Parliament House, and in a number of government departments.
That team facilitates a remarkably diverse and busy, positive program. To illustrate, the events of the last seven days…
Last Wednesday, a community visit here, and the Clerk of the Parliament with Bills for Assent. Thursday, Executive Council, then a formal dinner promoting philanthropy. Friday, I opened the State Titles of the Remote Controlled Dirt Racing Championship at Lawnton, where I displayed an abysmal lack of coordination; then the Governor’s Dinner at one of our long standing City clubs. Saturday, opening the 100th Mt Gravatt agricultural show, then in the evening, Opera Queensland’s marvellous production of Candide. Sunday, the remarkable Childers Festival, joining probably at least 40,000 fellow Queenslanders. And yesterday another tour group here, and then Opera Australia’s fabulous opening night performance of Anything Goes at QPAC. This morning I presented awards at St Stephen’s Cathedral at the launch of Catholic Education Week. Then tomorrow we have the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, followed by the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville.
I am privileged to have reached a point in my career where, as I was promised by the Official Secretary, the occasions are invariably marked by happiness – pointing up something of a contrast!
Kaye and I are most indebted to the highly professional team here at Government House in particular for devising and implementing this appropriately intensive program of community interaction.
Few know this, but the Government House team has subtle but irresistible ways of ensuring that I stick to my busy and complex schedule, and of safeguarding the dignity of the Office of Governor.
Early in my term, with, I claim, the complicity of our security officers, I escaped alone one Sunday by foot up to Paddington, where I presented a script to the chemist. Out he came: “Aren’t you the Governor-General?” I cleared up that misconception only to be admonished: “Don’t you have people who do these things for you?” And then, cognizant of calories, I trudged down, and up, hills back to Fernberg. The Official Secretary, alerted in the meantime to my activity, politely asked me on the following Monday not to do this again.
And when I am Administrator, it becomes very difficult – as the people of the nearby St Thomas’ Anglican Church at Toowong discovered to their intrigue one Sunday when they suddenly found themselves, Kaye and I attending – with others, in an especially secure, secular environment.
And lest you think that this head-turning attention brings with it the temptations of hubris and the wrong kind of pride, I assure you that my family always stands ready to bring me to earth, as they have thankfully, in Kaye’s case since our marriage in 1971, and in the children’s case, since Carolyn came along in 1974.
And the family tradition continues. During a dinner here some months ago I asked our then eight year-old grandson, early on dubbed by Kaye ‘Alexander the Greatest’, to read the inscription on an elegant, engraved silver water jug presented to the 17th Governor, Colonel Sir Henry Abel-Smith – from memories of my youth, undoubtedly one of our most affectionately regarded Governors.
Alexander whimsically announced, straight-faced, that it read: “Do not take notice of anything said by Paul de Jersey”.
Despite that dissenting opinion, I hope my remarks this evening have been accepted in the spirit in which they are offered.
Coming from me, this address has been of unprecedented length. That is, I assure you, I say reverting to type, a non-binding precedent from which I will most certainly depart. I hope your spirit tonight has notwithstanding remained “unbroken” – like our constitutional framework following this year’s election.
Those events highlight that the touchstone of the Governor’s role remains constitutional: not as a mere constitutional bystander, but as a non-political decision-maker applying constitutional principle in an independent manner.
More generally, Governors ought also to be purveyors of positivity. After a mere but privileged twelve months as your Governor, having witnessed at first hand our State’s abundance of talent, hard work, enthusiasm and plain human decency, Kaye’s and my optimism about the future of Queensland, its institutions and its people, is greater than ever.