Reception for Outstanding Queenslanders
Premier; Chief Justice; members of the Queensland Executive Council; Mr Speaker; 24th Governor and 25th Governor-General, Dame Quentin Bryce; 23rd Governor, Major General Peter Arnison; Mr Bleijie, representing the Opposition Leader; Judges; Lord Mayor and Mayors, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and students, many of them importantly with us tonight.
I at once acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands around Brisbane, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples, and pay my respects to their elders and emerging leaders. What a great honour, and how reassuring, for Kaye and me to have the opportunity to interact with so many Indigenous communities over the last five years.
Four years ago, as we convened in this room, I proceeded, with I now acknowledge considerable presumption, to speak for 45 minutes – yes, three quarters of an hour – about my first year in this Office. The presentation ended, and rightly so, when one of our delightful grandchildren uttered a charmingly audible sigh which brought the house down and rightly accelerated the end of my by then apparently interminable address!
And so tonight, I will speak for no more than two minutes!
It was then, as it is now, convenient to corral my remarks around what we call the Governor’s ‘three Cs’: the constitutional, ceremonial and community duties.
While tonight will roam across these contemporary aspects, I commence with the warmly personal.
When Kaye is so frequently asked about our demanding routine, she often says that we are “happy busy”, which really does if I may say encapsulate the role.
Governors and their spouses are active around the State and its people, and do their best to enthuse and unite our people.
At receptions, Kaye and I tend to divide the room, moving in opposite directions hoping thereby ultimately to meet most, if not all – and maybe eventually each other!
How often at a reception have I have come up to a group, not exactly to be asked “who are you?” (though that has sometimes occurred) but to be told “your wife was just here – she is absolutely charming!”
Throughout the State, Kaye is indeed my greatest asset, and I am ever grateful for her support.
And so, five years on, I see that as a predominant feature of this 26th Governorship – that, as happened when I was our State’s 17th Chief Justice for 16 years, it has effectively been a dual role.
Now I am not for one moment suggesting this is unique, and I am very proud we have established, outside this Investiture Room, the ‘Spouses’ Gallery’, where all of these vice-regal relationships are rightly acknowledged.
Kaye and I are very fortunate to have all our family members living nearby in Brisbane, and with their presence here at Fernberg from time to time – a wonderful ‘anchor’ in a sometimes dizzying regime.
The Official Secretary and his officers also work very effectively to keep us grounded in reality – and a very early promotion of that was, with their encouragement, bringing some of our own furniture into the Vice-Regal Suite upstairs.
As you would expect, the heritage traditions of this grand public place are carefully upheld and intrusions rightly monitored. But it is pleasant to be able to revive here in that way some memories of our previous family life at Kenmore over as many as 37 years.
I have spoken indulgently of my wife and family.
A stunning feature of Government House Queensland is the support from our administrative team. You know their commitment, and dare I suggest, these stats unusually are not I think tedious: over the last five years, we attended over 1,000 community events and delivered more than 1,100 speeches (I hope at least some were considered interesting); presented 1,460 Australian Honours and Awards at 80 investiture ceremonies; granted Assent to around 200 pieces of legislation passed by the State Parliament;
welcomed some 80,000 people to Fernberg, which we style the ‘People’s House’; and presided over 200 meetings of the Executive Council. In the past 12 months alone, we visited 70 regional centres – more than one a week.
All of these events, involvements, are arranged with great precision and sensitivity. The end question is always the same – how best to serve our people?
The people of Queensland have been well-served by their Governors since colonial separation in 1859. Those Governors have all exhibited a spirit of good will and beneficial dedication to our people – a template to which Kaye and I have sought to adhere.
There are two initiatives, however, specific to this 26th governorship which I think advance that crucial stipulation of service and warrant some brief mention tonight.
The first is what we call ‘Regional Government House’, an initiative which supports my commitment upon being sworn in to visit the people of all communities in the State during my term: not an unusual commitment of course, but Government House developed this new model.
We have since 2015 undertaken four of these exercises – in Cairns, Longreach, Mackay and Weipa – the fifth, next month, I confirm publicly tonight, is to be based in and from Mount Isa.
The essence of the exercise is to conduct Government House operations for a week from a regional centre, to replicate so far as possible in the regional centre what would otherwise happen in the capital.
Office staff are co-located with us, and we keep in regular FaceTime contact with those back at Fernberg.
Our week-long regional base enables us to visit and stay longer in a greater number of remote towns and communities than is possible from Brisbane (although we still undertake an average of more than 50 shorter, one- to three-day regional visits from Fernberg each year).
These ‘Regional Government House’ weeks are frenetic, but I sense highly valued by the communities we visit – and, may I say, by the Mayors, and we are delighted so many Mayors are here tonight!
The visits enable maximum vice-regal support for local need, be it flood and drought recovery, economic or tourism based. They also spawn a plethora of reminiscences – yes, I am writing a ‘sort of’ diary.
The second initiative I mention is the adoption and pursuit of social media, which, on the day I was sworn in, was a first for an Australian vice-regal representative.
This is not merely a vanity exercise – although I can report it has propelled Vice-Regal German Shepherd Gavel to world-wide fame!
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter effectively convey the
vibrancy of the vice-regal programme. Their use is also consistent with the Office’s contemporary mission and, importantly, promotes transparency. Every official engagement since 29 July 2014 has been Tweeted and is now there to be assessed on the public record.
It has also enabled me to more clearly communicate the Governor’s central constitutional duties (students beware! – that was a split infinitive).
I have elsewhere mentioned that the Governor is not a constitutional bystander, but an active part of governmental machinery – the Office is indeed at the apex.
I am reminded of this every Thursday, when I preside at meetings of the Executive Council.
Consistently with their significance, my diary is arranged directly around these meetings – on the basis the Executive Council meeting is critical, with priority – and time is put aside on a Wednesday to ensure proper consideration of all matters to be dealt with on the Thursday.
My mind is further concentrated on the constitutional in many other respects, when signing writs – on Executive Council advice – for State and Federal Senate elections, during openings of parliament, in the granting of Assent, and, of interest in the past 12 months, in pardoning Indigenous man Mr Kipper Billy, as it turned out wrongly convicted of aiding and abetting a rape in the 1860s – the pardon thereby righting, so far as it could be – with Mr Billy so long deceased, a miscarriage of justice of monumental proportion.
The trial judge had recommended he be pardoned, but before that was processed, he was shot dead escaping prison.
That slate is now relatively clean. The criminal justice system can only do its imperfect best.
The important relations between Governor and Executive Government are also reinforced in the long-standing practice of the Governors and Premiers of the day holding six-weekly meetings here at Fernberg – occasions, Premier, which I find most helpful as well as most pleasant.
The combination of Executive Council and these meetings adds a dynamic aspect to administration, resonant with the spirit of responsible government. They also recall Walter Bagehot’s perspicacious formulation of the rights of the Sovereign, transposed into the vice-regal context, ‘to be consulted, to encourage and to warn’.
I mentioned, before, the end question of all vice-regal endeavour is the same – how best to serve our people?
And when asked what I particularly enjoy about this role, I refer to the goal of ‘serving’ the people.
The word ‘serving’ embraces all the aspects of the role – constitutional, ceremonial and community – but frankly the opportunity over the last five years to meet and interact with many thousands of Queenslanders – here in the South-East and,
may I be permitted to say this, even more importantly in the regions – has been stupendous: for Kaye and me personally, and we hope for those we have been so privileged to meet.
May I briefly share two stories, one each from the ‘ceremonial’ and ‘community’ realms, which illustrate the reach of the vice-regal role.
The first concerns Hungerford, a proudly tiny town south of Cunnamulla, on the State border – the border marked by the so-called ‘dingo fence’: you may not know this, but to enter Queensland from New South Wales at Hungerford, you have to unlock a gate in that fence, and you are admonished not to forget to lock it behind you, and vice-versa!
The population of Hungerford when we visited it on the 7th of June 2019 was all of… 9. We met them all!
That was the first time the Governor of Queensland had ever visited Hungerford. Our visit this year coincided with their biennial Field Day, and there were about three hundred people present.
We travelled to Hungerford, which is very remote, courtesy of the Royal Flying Doctor Service which conducted a clinic at the Field Day. It was an outstanding honour to be able to visit such a small, remote community, and I sensed our visit was well received.
That recent Hungerford experience crystallised for us the essence of being Governor of Queensland (but no, I hadn’t taken five years to realise this, but this was really a very special experience). What is that essence? It is, in short, a State-wide commitment to a great diversity of wonderful people and remarkable places. And as to Hungerford, it must be acknowledged that as the 26th Governor, in this 21st century, Kaye and I, thanks to modern transportation and electronics, are able to accomplish vastly more in the service of our people than our early predecessors of the last century.
The second story merges the ceremonial with the community. This is not surprising, because more broadly one tends to inform the other.
During the ANZAC Day Parade along Adelaide Street in 2017, Mr Bob Jackson – a gunner on a Lancaster Bomber in the Second World War – stopped his buggy, exited with apparently great difficulty, stood erect and saluted me. He was then 98 years old. It was an inspirational moment. He stopped the reassuringly long Parade for quite a little while, and the people applauded him enthusiastically. The interaction was replayed for the wider public in that evening’s news bulletins.
In April last year, Bob Jackson’s house burned down. His medals, singed, were largely saved, though sadly not his dogs.
Kaye and I were greatly honoured to have Bob attend the Queen’s Birthday reception here last year. He was a most gracious guest, and as you’d expect, he displayed no hint of any ordeal at all.
Our interaction with Bob Jackson speaks of a remarkable aspect of this role.
Kaye and I can only usefully serve the people when they first serve each other. And Queenslanders readily do! They are big-hearted, generous, mutually supportive people. I was asked recently why this is so. Maybe there is a “Queensland gene” worthy of scientific analysis!
As to service, for me, I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to serve Queenslanders in this role for another two years, to consolidate what we may have so far achieved.
A hallmark of my time as Governor has been the maintenance of cordial productive relations with the government of the day, and Premier, I publicly thank you for recommending my extension to Her Majesty.
I look forward very much, with Kaye’s support, to our continuing to do our joint best to discharge the high responsibilities of the Office to the satisfaction of the wonderful people of Queensland.
I express my conviction drawn, from now five years direct experience, that the people of Queensland value the vice-regal office highly, and regard it with considerable respect.
All that is left, ladies and gentlemen, is to thank you all most sincerely, all of you who so excellently epitomise the great and enduring Queensland spirit which denotes our State – its people – as simply remarkable.
But as we invite you upstairs to the Drawing Room, could I suggest that if you wish, you may pause for a moment in the Fernberg Library and the corridor behind which display a snap shot, albeit incomplete and inadequate, of these last five years – but I think none the less interesting!
I thank you very much for your patience – I acknowledge I have spoken for more than two minutes, but considerably less than 45!