Why Bob Carr ejected the Governor
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Sunday, 27 November 2005

In our last column, we pointed out that in his recent bombshell, former NSW Premier Bob Carr had undermined his successor.

The real reason for throwing the Governor out of Government House was not cost. It was not public accessibility. It was far more sinister.

According to Tony Stephens in the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 November, 2005 ("Whitlam leaves past behind with gifts from high time and low"), Bob Carr revealed this at the launch on the previous day of a third edition of Mr Gough Whitlam’s book, The Truth of the Matter.

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Dismissing, without having read it, Sir David Smith’s authoritative book, Head of State, Carr told Whitlam: "Your victory over Kerr is complete. The battlefield has been abandoned."

And then Carr dropped his bombshell.

 

...the real reason.....

He said that one lesson from the dismissal was the potentially corrupting role of the vice-regal office.

This was the reason he had decided the NSW Governor would not live in Government House.

That’s it.

The reason the Governor was thrown out was to diminish the office, and weaken any discretionary power the Governor might have over an errant Premier.

Carr added that the House had been "returned" to the people. Had the specifically purpose built house ever been taken away from them?

Were the people ever asked? They made their views known in Macquarie Street, views which Carr completely ignored.

At the book launch, the former premier then made the extraordinary statement that the "reserve powers" that Sir John used to justify his action did not exist.

The reserve powers do not exist!

This statement would have amazed the great Labor leaders, Curtin, Chifley, Evatt (who even now is still a leading authority on them) and Carr’s illustrious predecessor, and subsequently Governor-General, Sir William McKell.

In 1951, the then Federal Labor Opposition had hoped that Sir John, in exercise of those "non-existent" powers, would refuse Sir Robert Menzies request for a double dissolution in 1951.

The proposition that the reserve powers do not exist would also have astounded Paul Keating and Gareth Evans who spent vast amounts of time trying, unsuccessfully, to codify them.

Everybody, except Bob Carr, agrees the reserve power to withdraw a commission of an errant Prime Minister or Premier well and truly exists.

So what persuaded Carr to make such a monumentally silly statement?

He went on to claim the trappings of vice-regal life had drawn Sir John Kerr to the "delusion" that his role was to exercise real power rather than serve as a ceremonial figurehead.

"Living in the gilded cage of Admiralty House and Government House at Yarralumla, being attended on by security chiefs, ambassadors and visiting heads of state, created the illusion in this man that the paper role of Governor-General had a reality."

So there we have it.

To repeat, the reason the Governor was thrown out was to diminish the office, and weaken any discretionary power the Governor might have over an errant Premier.

It was an attack, a calculated attack, on the checks and balances of our constitutional system.

It was an attack on the constitution.

The 30th anniversary of Whitlam’s dismissal brought out not only Sir David Smith’s profound study of these events.

It has also exposed the dangers of unchecked political power. First, Paul Keating said the Governor- General should have been placed under house arrest, and if he had been Prime minister, he would have done that.

The only other person I have known to hold this view was the last Indonesian dictator. When some people laughed at Mr Keating's words, he insisted that he was serious.

He would have placed the Governor- General under house arrest.

A former and sacked Prime Minister can order a steak, as Mr Whitlam did, but even a Prime Minister in office cannot order the arrest of anyone, as W.M.Hughes once discovered when the police refused to arrest a person who threw an egg at him.

That they would arrest their Commander in Chief, for doing his duty, is highly unlikely.

And then Bob Carr admitted the real, unconstitutional reason for throwing the Governor out of Government House.

As Lord Acton warned in those memorable words, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Until next time,

David Flint

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To read the Herald report, click here