John Howard’s Press Conference Announcing Major-General Michael Jeffery As Next Governor-General

The Prime Minister, John Howard, called a press conference today to announce that he has appointed Major-General Michael Jeffery as Australia’s new Governor-General.

Jeffery is a former Governor-General of Western Australia.

Jeffery

  • Listen to Howard’s press conference (11m)

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’ve called this news conference to inform the Australian people that Her Majesty The Queen has approved my recommendation to appoint Major-General Michael Jeffery as the next Governor-General of Australia.

General Jeffery served as the Governor of Western Australia between 1993 and the year 2000. He will become the first Australian born Governor-General who has had a full-time military career. He has had a very distinguished career in the Australian Defence Forces. He was awarded the Military Cross in Vietnam for courageous action. He became the first commanding officer of the SAS regiment in 1976, and held a number of very senior posts in the Australian Army until being promoted to the position of Major-General.

He is married to Marlena and they have four children and a number of grandchildren. After ceasing to be the Governor of Western Australia, he made with his wife his home in Canberra. I believe that General Jeffery will bring to the post not only a wealth of experience, but a great ease of manner in dealing with Australians from every part of our country. He is a person who has held significant leadership positions in the past, has a great capacity to relate to people, and I have no doubt that his appointment will be very warmly welcomed by the Australian people.

It is proposed that he be sworn in on the 11th of August next in the Senate Chamber in Canberra and until then Sir Guy Green the Governor of Tasmania will continue to administer the Commonwealth of Australia. I have released a formal statement announcing the appointment and containing additional details of General Jeffery’s career and a simultaneous announcement is being made by Buckingham Palace. Are there any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, when did you make this decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

I guess David I finally settled on it about a week ago. I discussed the matter with a number of my very senior colleagues and I informed the Opposition Leader of it about an hour ago.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what qualities does Major-General Jeffery have that you think will make him a good Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the first and most important thing is that he is a person who relates extremely well with people. In the time that he was Governor of Western Australia, he was noted for his capacity to relate to all sections of the community, he was a very popular Governor, he carried out the job with great dignity, but he was very accessible. He has obviously had a very distinguished career in his chosen profession. Anybody who rises to the rank of Major-General, anybody who is awarded a Military Cross in action, anybody who commands the SAS regiment, is in every sense of the word a leader, and I think those qualities will make him an excellent Governor-General.

JOURNALIST:

Have you done any additional background checks as part of this process?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Can you elaborate?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I can just indicate that I did. I made quite a number of inquiries and went through a number of procedures and I’m satisfied that they were appropriate, but I certainly don’t intend to go into them.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, taking nothing away from Major-General Jeffery, was there any reason why you did not decide to continue Sir Guy Green?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I chose a person, recommended to the Queen, a person who I thought was most appropriate.

JOURNALIST:

What length of time will his appointment be?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s intended to be for a period of three to four years, although in a legal sense it’s held at Royal pleasure.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, what would you say to people who might suggest that this is a conservative appointment?

PRIME MINISTER:

The question of whether an appointment is seen as conservative or liberal or radical, to me is irrelevant. It’s a question of whether you have chosen the right person and I believe that he is very well qualified and I have no doubt that he will work very hard to discharge the duties of the office and he will do it very well.

JOURNALIST:

How relevant was his military background in this appointment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well no more or less relevant than the professional backgrounds of other people that have been appointed. It’s interesting if you trace the professional backgrounds of the people who have been Australian-born Governors-General, they have overwhelmingly been lawyers slash judges or politicians. All the Australian-born Governor-Generals, Isaacs was both… then McKell was a Governor, was a Premier of New South Wales; Casey had a very distinguished background but it was predominantly a political one; and then of course Paul Hasluck had a political background; John Kerr had a legal background; Zelman Cowen had a legal background; Ninian Stephen had a legal background; Bill Hayden had a political background; and Bill Deane had a legal background. Peter Hollingworth had a Church background. And this will be, if my historical research is correct, I think General Jeffery will be the first Australian-born Governor-General with a military background. He won’t be the first. The most recent I think was probably Field Marshal Slim, who although not being Australian-born, was widely acclaimed as an excellent Governor-General and a person who had a lot of contact with Australian military people during World War II. So I think it’s no more or less relevant, but I think it’s important to say that he will be the first person to occupy, as an Australian-born Governor-General, that post with that sort of background.

JOURNALIST:

Did he need any persuasion himself to take on the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

We had a discussion and he thought about it, discussed it with his family and then indicated he’d be very honoured to accept.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, where is he now? Is he in Sydney or…

PRIME MINISTER:

He’s in Canberra at the present time and he will be doing a brief press availability or whatever you might like to call it, picfac with words, at about 4.30.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

What was the response of your colleagues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh, I’m not going to go into that. I don’t intend to do that. I don’t normally go into chapter and verse of my discussions with my senior colleagues, but I did discuss it with them and I discussed it obviously with a number of other people whose counsel I value and whose knowledge of the person is very direct and continuous.

JOURNALIST:

Do you believe this is part of the healing process?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well can I say that despite all of the comment from some to the contrary, everything that has happened over the past few months demonstrates that the institution is strong and flexible and durable and works well. We certainly had a great deal of focus on some matters concerning the previous occupant. I have expressed my views on that and my personal views about the character of Dr Hollingworth and I don’t resile one bit from my warm regard for him as an individual and the contribution he has made to underprivileged people in this country. It is worth saying that the system has worked and worked extremely well. We dealt with that issue. Dr Hollingworth resigned. He stood aside first of all, an administrator was appointed, the administrator continues in a seemless fashion, the new Governor-General will be appointed, will be commissioned by the Queen, the appointment has been approved but the formality of the commission is to come, and then he’ll be sworn in in the Senate Chamber on the 11th of August. Now this to me is the constitution working, this is the institution proving its durability and its flexibility, without drama, without any constitutional interruptions or constitutional hindrances. I don’t think you can have something that works better. That’s my view. I know some disagree with me, but that’s part of the democratic robust debate that will no doubt continue. Any other questions on that, or any other issue?

JOURNALIST:

How do you think he’ll handle the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think he’ll do it very well. He has had experience at being in a position of authority. If you’ve served as a State Governor, you’ve had a lot of experience. Obviously being Governor-General of the Commonwealth is a much larger picture than being a State Governor, but certainly he is very used to the vice-regal office and his former military career gives him a sure and instinctive touch in dealing with people. I have seen him mix with people as recently as Friday in Perth. As the honorary Colonel of the SAS regiment, he naturally turns up at any gathering that is very important to that regiment, and he was there on Friday at the reception after the parade mixing very freely, very easily, and obviously a very welcome person. Now, all I hear and what I have observed tells me that he is very much, in the proper sense of the word, the expression ‘a man of the people’. Thank you.

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