Howard’s Flimsy Reasons For Attending Queen Mother’s Funeral

In order to avoid further criticism of the Governor-General, John Howard has manufactured an argument to justify his trip to London for the Queen Mother’s funeral next Tuesday.

In an interview with Stan Zemanek on Melbourne’s 3AW, Howard claimed that it was appropriate for him to attend the funeral “given the role of the Queen Mother and particularly the identification with her of many Australians of World War II generation.”

Asked if there was a reason why the Governor-General would not be attending, Howard said: “If I’m going it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Governor General to go as well. It would be unusual to have both of us at something like that. In fact there’s some kind of protocol that suggests you don’t have a Prime Minister and a Governor General simultaneously representing the country.”

Claiming not to have “looked it up”, Howard said he didn’t think he was the first Prime Minister to attend a royal funeral. He correctly pointed out that Robert Menzies attended the funeral of the Queen Mother’s husband, King George VI, in 1952.

However, there is a vast difference between the nation’s Prime Minister attending the funeral of the Head of State, as in Menzies’ case, and the funeral of the mother of a monarch who has reigned for 50 years. Moreover, the Queen Mother occupied no constitutional position affecting Australia.

There is, of course, a sentimental link with the Queen Mother and the opening of the old Parliament House in 1927. She attended that ceremony as the Duchess of York.

However, it is transparently the case that Howard wishes to sideline Hollingworth in order to allow the controversy over the former Archbishop of Brisbane’s handling of sex abuse allegations to fade further from the public consciousness.

During the interview, Zemanek seemed aware of the possibility that the Howards are angling for one last royal lap of honour when he queried the Prime Minister about whether any leadership discussions had taken place with Peter Costello. Denying this, Howard repeatedly said he had done nothing more than undertake to “think about” his future when he turned 64. This occurs on July 26 next year, but Howard said he would give the matter some attention “towards the end of next year”.

Transcript of portions of John Howard’s interview with Stan Zemanek on Melbourne’s 3AW.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, she’s been a great lady. It’s a long life. It’s an amazing thing. I guess the thing that strikes you about the death of somebody of that age is the reminder of all the things she lived through and you sort of do the calculations back when she was born, no motor cars, telephone literally had only just started, they had gas lamps in London, before the Federation of Australia, before the first World War, and she lived through all of those events, so it’s quite a remarkable life. And it’s always sad when somebody dies but it’s a very long life and it’s an occasion of thanksgiving for the contribution she made to the institution and the family that she served so very faithfully.

ZEMANEK:

Absolutely. I understand you’re going to be the first Australian Prime Minister to attend a royal funeral. Is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think so but I don’t know that I’ve looked it up. I don’t know. I assume that Bob Menzies went to the late King’s, this lady’s late husband’s funeral fifty years ago. There haven’t too many in the [inaudible] they’re long livers.

ZEMANEK:

Is there a reason why the Governor General is not attending?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think it’s appropriate given the role of the Queen Mother and particularly the identification with her of many Australians of World War II generation, I think it’s appropriate that I represent the country and if I’m going it wouldn’t be appropriate for the Governor General to go as well. It would be unusual to have both of us at something like that. In fact there’s some kind of protocol that suggests you don’t have a Prime Minister and a Governor General simultaneously representing the country.

…..

ZEMANEK:

Just on another matter, Opposition Leader Simon Crean has said in an interview with Channel 10 today, that you’re beatable at the next Federal election but he’d prefer to be up against Treasurer, Peter Costello. Is there a chance that Peter Costello will be there, and you may well retire?

PRIME MINISTER:

Stan, I was asked about all of this 6 months ago and – during the election campaign – and I think I said then that – and I’ll repeat – that a couple of years into my next term, and I’ve just started that term, I’ll think about my future. But that’s a long way off.

ZEMANEK:

You’ll think about the future?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, that’s what I said then. But I’m not saying I’m going to retire. I just said I’d think about the future.

ZEMANEK:

Will you see out this term?

PRIME MINISTER:

Stan, I answered that – what I said in the last – in the election campaign remains the position, when towards the end of next year – two years into my term, after I’ve turned 64, I’m going to have a look at it. I said I’d think about it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to give it away. There are a lot of things I’ll take into account. And I told the Australian people that before the election. I was completely open with them – and my position has not changed one millimetre, one iota, since then.

ZEMANEK:

Have you or Mr Costello had any meetings or discussions about the leadership in the last few months?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

ZEMANEK:

None, whatsoever?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we haven’t.

ZEMANEK:

Will you have any discussions –

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t have any plan. No, why would I?

ZEMANEK:

Well, I just asked – I just asked the question.

PRIME MINISTER:

You cover every base, I know. I mean, I would be disappointed if you didn’t.

ZEMANEK:

Absolutely. Look, I know that you’re struggling there with a bit of a cough and a cold and I thank you for giving us so much time today, and appreciate it. And thank you very much, we’ll talk again.

PRIME MINISTER:

Okay, thanks Stan. Bye.

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