OK. Professor Julia Gillard, in her retreat by the sea in Adelaide, feels she has something to contribute on our current controversy with Indonesia. She is not only welcome to do so, but as an almost perfect direction finder on policy – do the opposite of what she suggests – she actually does contribute to the debate. Have her out in front, I say. Make sure she remains the most visible member of the Labor Party. Never deprive her of an opportunity to speak whenever she feels the need. I will defend her right to free speech etc etc etc.
However, this is not also the case of Quentin Bryce whose views seem to be as inane as the views of the former Prime Minister but the thing about those personal views is that we are not supposed to know them. She is permitted freedom of opinion, but given the job as Governor-General, she is not free to express them. I again think that by speaking her mind in public, she has actually damaged the causes she favours but that is so far from the point that it is almost not worth mentioning. It’s really this incredible lack of judgment in neither respecting nor understanding her role in a Parliamentary system that is the concern.
Indeed, she almost perfectly underscores why an elected President would cause great harm to the governance of this country. The job of the Governor-General is to hold a series of reserve powers to be applied in those very rare cases of constitutional division and deadlock. In the meantime, it is to be as far from possible from political engagement. If she doesn’t understand that she should by now. And if an apology is owed anywhere by anyone in this country, it is she who owes a private apology to Tony Abbott, and a sincere one.
But if she were an elected President, then she would feel a greater licence to say what she wants in public since she would have the authority of the approximately 50% of the country who had voted for her as President. And rather than commenting here or there on some issue of some kind, the elected Governor-General would feel free to become involved with any and every issue of the day since they would feel they have a constituency of their own.
The Governor-General has done us a favour by giving us just a taste of a world in which our head of state might feel free to enter the political debate. It is why electing the Governor-General would be the worst of all possible constitutional arrangements we might possibly construct.