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Abbott's GG gripe reignites republican sentiment

  • 24 April 2013

Restarting the republic debate was almost certainly not what Tony Abbott had in mind when he wrote to Julia Gillard about the appointment of Australia's next governor-general. Indeed, since the Opposition Leader then moved quickly to hose down speculation that former prime minister John Howard is his own preferred candidate to succeed Quentin Bryce when her term ends in March next year, it is not clear just what he had in mind.

Abbott has unwittingly done Australians a service, however, by writing to the Prime Minister. He has reminded us just how muddled are the terms in which the head of state/viceregal role is usually described, and why the people, not politicians, should choose the person who holds the office.

The letter to Gillard cites recent public service appointments, such as renewing the tenure of the present Australian Electoral Commissioner, which Abbott alleges subvert 'the established convention that no government should make decisions that are legitimately the province of a potential successor'.

The 'established convention' invoked here is spurious. The Prime Minister has set a date for the election of the next Parliament but writs for that election have not been issued, so it cannot be credibly claimed that the government is in caretaker mode.

Abbott is worried, however, that the Gillard Government is intent on depriving him of the right to appoint Bryce's successor if the election hands him the prime ministership, as opinion polls strongly suggest it will.

'The announcement of appointments expressed to take effect almost nine months into the term of the next parliament and some 15 months before they become operative is a blatant abuse of power,' he admonishes Gillard. 'Quite properly, arrangements regarding the appointment of a new governor-general would be, and should be, a matter for a new or a returned prime minister after the 14 September election.

'Thus, I seek your specific assurance that this precedent will be respected.'

Abuse of power? Abbott really must have a prospective GG in mind to use such language. After all, the government has announced nothing, so why is he worried?

But Gillard staffers seized the opportunity to have some fun at Abbott's expense, hinting that he intends to replace Bryce with his mentor Howard. The Fairfax press ran gleefully with this