The Governor-General, Michael Jeffery, has been attacked by a newspaper columnist, prompting a rare public defence from Government House.
The Governor-General’s Official Secretary, Malcolm Hazell, has written to the Brisbane Courier-Mail defending his boss against the charge of having “risen without trace”. Hazell has outlined the range of activities the Governor-General has been involved in, including 850 speeches and 750 official functions since his appointment in 2003.
This is the text of the article by Mike O’Connor in the Brisbane Courier-Mail on February 3, 2008.
Governor-General stirs into action over cricket issue
There is nothing quite like the prospect of joining the ranks of the unemployed to galvanise a body into action.
This is particularly so when your present job happens to be one of the best in the country with a salary of $365,000 a year and some attractive perks such as free accommodation in a fully furnished and maintained mansion, staff including butler and chef, free limousine and driver and first-class overseas travel.
Such is the position in which Governor-General Michael Jeffery now finds himself. Appointed by John Howard to the Big Job five years ago, Jeffery’s term expires in August and the prospect of trudging down to the Centrelink office in the depths of winter now beckons.
As a G-G, he has risen without trace and would easily head any list of least-known Australian public figures, having blended in with the red carpet with such success as to become invisible.< Occasionally his image appears on the evening television news, usually shaking hands with someone much better known than himself. He is a distant figure, shrouded in ceremony and as far removed from the Australian populace as the monarch he represents. According to the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia's website, "possibly the most important role of the Governor-General, as the office has evolved over the years, is to encourage, articulate and represent those things that unite Australians as a nation". If there has been much in the way of encouragement and articulation over the past five years I would suggest that it has gone unnoticed – until last week when suddenly, the G-G stirred. The end of his tenure now looms and while it seems likely that Prime Minister Rudd will re-appoint him, the G-G decided it was finally time he stuck his head over the parapet and articulated "those things that unite Australia as a nation". Perhaps he felt it would mark him as a man of the people in the new Prime Minister's eyes and secure for him another term in the well-padded lifestyle to which he has become accustomed. Incredibly, to do this, he decided it would be a good thing if he gave the nation's cricket team a belt over the ear with the vice-regal sword in a "play up, play up and play the game, there's a good chap" address that virtually accused the country's most successful team of athletes of practising poor sportsmanship. In it, he lectured the Australian team to be mindful of the difference between "robust competition" and "poor sportsmanship". He also decided that what Ricky Ponting and company needed was a lesson in cricket history. "We shouldn't forget that there were reports that the poor sportsmanship displayed in the infamous Bodyline tour (by England) of 1932 and 1933 actually had an adverse effect on trade between our two cricket-loving nations," he said. It would be reasonable to presume that Ponting, who has played 116 more Test matches than the G-G, was familiar with the Bodyline series. What he probably did not know was that his side should take into account Australia's balance of trade with India before padding up. Upset the Indians and it might affect trade between the two countries? Surely he can't be serious? The G-G then harked back to 1956 when runner John Landy stopped to help a competitor and still won his race, before fast-forwarding to this year's Australian Open and lauding the good sportsmanship displayed there. Tennis players and runners who competed 60 years ago are good sports, was the message. Australian cricketers are not. Obviously, the G-G has never been propped in front of his taxpayer-supplied telly when a line call has gone against Lleyton Hewitt. Given that since settling into Government House five years ago, Major General Michael Jeffery has excelled at saying very little of consequence about anything, his decision to break this deafening silence by criticising the Australian team is extraordinary. It was a cynical ploy to take advantage of the friction that exists between the Australian and Indian teams and grab a headline. If the G-G had wanted to articulate what his fellow Australians were thinking, he could have used his address to castigate Cricket Australia for its gutless kowtowing to the Indian cricket board. He might have mentioned the farcical "oversight" which saw the International Cricket Council fail to tell the judge sitting on Harbhajan Singh's hearing of his four previous transgressions. Instead, he chose to offer a patronising view of how the game should be played. I'm sure that Ponting and his team have taken careful note of the criticism aimed at them by Her Majesty's representative and will be better men for it. Last year it cost us $15.7 million to keep the Governor-General in a job. Are we getting our money's worth? I think not.
This is the text of Letter to the Editor of the Courier-Mail by Malcolm Hazell, Official Secretary to the Governor-General, on February 4, 2008.
I wonder whether Mike O’Connor, in researching his Monday View column about the Governor-General, spoke to any of the 180 or so voluntary and service organisations for which the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are patron? Or the farmers, miners, teachers, emergency service workers, indigenous leaders and nurses across Australia who have been visited by the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery and thanked for their efforts on behalf of the community.
Or perhaps any of the 40,000 people who have received awards under our honours system – each delighted in the fact that Governor-General has taken the time to memorise their biographies and to make a personal comment about their achievements.
Did he talk to any of our military personnel who have received the Governor-General at bases across Australia and overseas? To any of the veterans at ANZAC Day and other commemorative services who served with General Jeffery in Vietnam, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and Malaysia?
Did he speak to anyone in Western Australia where General Jeffery served with distinction for 7 years as State Governor?
Did he speak to any of the 4,000 special needs children and their carers who have been to Government House as a Christmas treat?
Or any of the thousands of children who visit Government House during the year?
Mr O’Connor’s purported knowledge about the Governor-General’s future intentions are wrong. Instead of “aiming to secure another term”, General Jeffery is on the public record indicating his intention to relinquish office at the end of the year. Certainly Mr O’Connor did not read the Governor-General’s 2008 Australia Day Address. Nor any of the other 800 or so speeches on our website at www.gg.gov.au.
Mr O’Connor asks whether the community gets their money’s worth?
You be the judge.
Since his appointment, General Jeffery has:
– Delivered over 850 speeches;
– Attended some 1100 separate events throughout Australia;
– Hosted over 750 official functions;
– Received the credentials of over 130 Ambassadors and High Commissioners;
– Presided over 121 meetings of the Federal Executive Council, which has considered some 2,540 agenda items;
– Assented to over 760 pieces of legislation;
– Received over 500 callers, many of whom were representatives of the approximately 180 organisations for which the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are Patrons; and
– Represented the Government and people of Australia in Belgium, China, Denmark, East Timor, Egypt, Germany, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Rome, Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands, the Solomon Islands, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Samoa and Singapore.
The portrait offered by Mr O’Connor, of a man who has served his country for over 50 years as a decorated soldier, Governor and Governor-General, is disingenuous in the extreme.
Official Secretary to the Governor-General