Saturday, September 14, 2013


Separation of powers is a pretty important concept in a democracy: there's a reason for it.

Things must not only work appropriately, they must be seen to be 'clean'.

Image from Channel 9

Which lease to the question, what sort of relationship can the new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, have with the mother-in-law of his political opponent. Really.

Goodbye Quentin Bryce.

For the sake of the constitution, the country, your son in law, and the ALP.


We are not amused . . .

Just to make it absolutely clear, Quentin Bryce should resign immediately. This is not a comment on her personal appropriateness, or otherwise, for her position. The crucial point is that being Governor General is not just a day job. It’s a 24-hour role as the country’s head of state.

It’s not Bryce’s fault that she has a stunning daughter, Chloe. And it’s not her fault that she fell for a young, ambitious politician, Bill Shorten. And it’s not his fault that he’s crawling his way to the top of the Labor party over the bodies of other people who he first installed, then trashed on his own path to the top.

The ability to step over the fallen bodies of colleagues is perfectly acceptable for a politician: after all, everyone knows the sort of ruthless ambition behind their drive to thrive. Propriety, integrity, constancy; these are all just commodities to be jettisoned if they get in the way of personal advancement.

Nobody admits that, of course. Just look at Shorten’s own personal rationale for publically abandoning Julia Gillard one hour before he committed to re-installing Rudd. It was all about preserving the party, holding enough seats to win government after the inevitable defeat – by which time he hoped to be leader. No element of policy, or what’s best for the country, in his analytical processes. It was all about preserving the party within striking distance of government. And why? Because he’d done the numbers. Shorten knew he’d have a good chance of becoming the next leader and wanted to make sure he’d also have a good chance of moving into the Lodge at some point in the future. So he didn’t allow anything to stand in the way of his own ambition. Certainly not any feelings for our beleaguered first female PM, a person he’d personally installed and then backed through two previous challenges.

Again, lets be quite clear about another point. The only reason Rudd challenged was because he knew Shorten had changed sides. His small group of backers changed their votes. This made all the difference. Treachery justified in the name of keeping the party together.

But that’s all fair enough. What’s unforgivable is the timing. Shorten changed at the last minute to ensure that Rudd wouldn’t really have time to alter the overall political dynamic, introduce new policies or lock the party onto any positions that might later affect his own ability to manoeuvre. If Shorten really wanted to save the party he would have acted earlier. Instead he waited until the last minute. He chose his time to strike carefully, when Gillard was at her weakest but Rudd wouldn’t be able to rebuild. Allow the old warriors to battle themselves to exhaustion and then come through the centre.

What’s truly amazing about Shorten’s meteoric rise is the way he’s remained untouched by all the blood he’s waded through. There’s no doubt he’s a charming person. I suspect he does, also, really believe what he says and that he is acting in the best interests of others and the party. This doesn’t prevent the eventual outcome from being rather unfortunate though, particularly for anyone who gets in the way of these desirable outcomes. And this is why Brice must announce that she must step down.

The minute Shorten becomes Opposition Leader he will change his focus – ruthlessly – to winning office. Every fibre of his being will be directed to this one purpose. And that is how it should be. If Labor is to survive it’s vital that the party’s next leader demonstrate the tenacity and determination that Shorten displays. This is not a column about his suitability or otherwise for the leadership. That’s for party members to decide.

But how, possibly, could Tony Abbott go to Yarralumla and speak frankly with the Governor General when he knows that he’s supping with his opponent’s mother-in-law. It’s insupportable.

I have no doubt that Bryce has, and will continue to demonstrate her own political impartiality. That was possible when her child was married to a government minister. But the situation has now changed and she is the head of state. It is impossible for her, no matter how she tries, to develop a good and proper relationship with the new Prime Minister when she is so intimately connected to a potential Opposition Leader.

Any failure to offer to stand down would simply prove why she absolutely must do so. If we are to retain any confidence in our constitution the impartial, apolitical role of the governor general must be preserved absolutely. Any contamination, no matter how small, how indirect, compromises the entire edifice.

Bryce must, immediately, make her position on this matter clear. She must resign. We have established, already, that Shorten will do anything to become PM. Bryce must not stand in his way.


  1. This is ridiculous, if Bryce was a man you wouldn't even question her ability to be impartial. You think after all she has done in her career she will be incapable of working with abbot because of her son in law? . You think she can't control herself on this matter when she has proven over her time as gg to be a wonderful steady and completely professional women at all times. I find it laughable that you write with such certainty that you know the minds of Shorten and Bryce. These are your opinions, your little scenarios they you have made up in your head.

  2. Fair call Nic. Governor-Generals do not have long tenures in office usually 4 to 5 years,some go to six, one went to 7 years and many just a couple of years. Quentin Bryce has been in the role over 5 years which is on par with the average. The Gillard Government extended her appointment to March 2014 through the Queen so it would be appropriate for her to step down at that time at the end of her term of office. It also allows time to find the next candidate - Tony Abbott was quite vocal about the former Labor Government not appointing the next G-G and that has not happened so the new Australian Government can ponder the question.

  3. In response to the first comment (and the associated letter-writing campaign to the Canberra Times), this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that Bryce is a woman. Nor does it have anything to do with me "knowing the minds of Shorten and Bryce". This is the exact point - it doesn't matter what they, as individuals, are like. It's inappropriate. Full stop.
    And thanks, Charles, for pointing out the March 2014 timetable and the extension to her time. I thought about attempting to weave the dates into the column but it all became a bit difficult, so I left it out. And, as you implicitly suggest, I'm almost left without an issue to be outraged about if we reduce her time overlapping with Shorten to a couple of months . . .