Why Bob Carr Evicted Our Governors from Government House
Written by Professor David Flint AM   
Friday, 09 February 2007

 

There are three questions which need to be answered. 

  • Why did Bob Carr throw our Governors out of Government House?
  • Why does the NSW government keep them out?  
  • Even Richard Butler lived in Government House, Hobart. Why is NSW different?

Bob Carr kept ONE CRUCIAL REASON a secret until after he retired. Read on.  

He only hinted at this when he quipped, as he stood behind the seated and evicted Governor, “That’s one for Jack Lang!”


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CARR’S BOMBSHELL

On the appointment of a new Governor in 1996, Bob Carr dropped a bombshell.

He was actually going to throw the Governor out of his old and purpose built home and office, Government House!

He would make the office part time!  

Carr sacked Government House kitchen and other staff. (Those guests at a catered function just after the eviction who came down with food poisoning must have thanked the Premier.)  

The new Governor, Gordon Samuels, was to keep his job at the NSW Law Reform Commission. Bob Carr had the taxpayer fund a city office for the Governor - although there was already one… at Government House.  

Why did Carr do this to the New South Wales Governor, who shortly after the settlement in 1788 has lived in an official residence?  

Carr indicated that this was to bring the Governor closer to the people!  

How?  The Governor wasn’t to live in Government House. He was to cut out most of his public functions.   

But Carr was probably right. The public would see the Governor.  They’d see him trying to move between Bronte, the Governor’s office, his other government job and Government House. They would see him trapped like them in Sydney’s impossible traffic.

Carr’s decree shocked Australia.

It shocked his party.  

It even shocked his Cabinet - he’d kept them in the dark.  

It was one of the most unpopular political decisions ever made.  ACM called one of the largest –and most peaceful - demonstrations in Sydney. It blocked Macquarie Street.  

One banner brilliantly summarized the feeling of the crowd that day:

                               “THROW OUT THE CARR & KEEP THE HOUSE”



WHAT  WERE TO BE THE BENEFITS FOR THE PUBLIC FROM THIS EVICTION?

Carr claimed the public would benefit from the eviction.  He mentioned four - but he kept the real one up his sleeve. None – not one – of the following claimed benefits were realized. Not one!

1. The Governor -” His Part- Time Excellency” would be part time.  

Not true!
The threat of a serious constitutional challenge if the Governor continued to head a government agency forced Carr to backtrack.
 
2. The Governor would get rid of unnecessary pomp and ceremony.  

Not true!

With the Governor back to being full time, he was free to perform his public role around the state. Carr relented and let him do this. His advisers might have reminded him there are occasions when Australians wish to be united and not divided by party politics.

But the government uses Government House for its own pomp and ceremony. At the mere hint of a photo opportunity showing him walking into the grounds, Carr would insist the Governor receive him at Government House.

3. The eviction would save money - $2 million a year.

Not true!  

The Auditor-General found it cost $600,000 more to maintain Government House with the Governor not there. Add to that the costs of the additional office-at one time there were two as one was being renovated, security on the Governor’s home, and additional security on the constant movement of the Governor.

4. The eviction would give the public greater access.

Not true!  

In 2004 there were fewer visitors than during the time of the last Governor in residence. In fact Government house was opened to the public by previous Governors.  


 
EVERY BENEFIT A DISADVANTAGE – AND THERE WERE TWO OTHER DISADVANTAGES



Apart from increased cost and decreased public access there were two other disadvantages which Bob Carr had obviously not thought about.  

  • One is for the Governor. She must move, regularly, between her home, her office and Government House. This constant movement, with its security demands, has become more difficult as traffic conditions worsened in Sydney. 
     
  • Nobody who does not have a house in Sydney can ever be appointed as Governor. Was this a studied insult to those who do not live in Sydney? Or was it , like the decision to make the office part time, indicative of a careless , ill thought out act  of revenge on the memory of Sir Phillip Game, who dismissed Jack Lang.

Although the eviction was almost universally seen as a very bad decision, and he had to abandon his wish to make the office part time, Bob Carr never relented in keeping the Governor out of Government House, except when it suited him.


CARR LEAVES A MESS  
 


Bob Carr resigned in 2005. He moved to  an office in the same building as the government, and in his generously taxpayer funded retirement, was appointed to a very well paid position with Macquarie Bank, one of the leading financiers of infrastructure development. He maintains a high public profile.  

In 2005, ACM decided to approach the new Premier.  

We thought Mr. Iemma might not be as committed personally to Bob Carr’s decision, which is generally considered to be a disaster. So much so, it has not been followed in any other state, even when republican Richard Butler was briefly installed as Governor of Tasmania.  

But the Premier’s office has told us the government “currently” has no plans to review the eviction.  Government House, they claim, is ‘more accessible to the public” and the Governor uses it “for all principal Vice Regal functions”  

It seems the government no longer argues the cost advantages of the decision. How could it? It has completely ignored the inconvenience to the Governor, and the fact that no one who lives outside of Sydney can be made Governor.  

So keeping the only Governor in Australia out of Government House is all to do with making it accessible to the public, which is not true. And as for "principal Vice regal functions", it seems this does not include living in the building which was built for this purpose.  

So who decides what such a function is? Bob Carr used to decide this, it seems. He e sure sure the Governor received him at Government House when ever the media could be expected to film him strolling, democratically, through the gates.  Assisting a premier to obtain a "photo opportunity" is apparently one such "principal Vice Regal function".



THE REAL REASON: THAT’S ONE FOR JACK LANG –AND GOUGH WHITLAM!
 

But is public accessibility the real reason for ejecting the Governor, as Premier Iemma now maintains? Bob Carr has completely undermined his successor on this.   

Costs have spiralled, Government House is no more accessible than before and anyone who does not have a house in Sydney can never be made Governor.  

The real reason for throwing the Governor out of Government House was not cost or public accessibility.

In my opinion it was far more sinister.  

On 7 November, 2005 Bob Carr launched a third edition of former prime minister Gough Whitlam’s book The Truth of The Matter. This was on his dismissal in 1975 by Sir John Kerr who had found that he was acting illegally and unconstitutionally. The launch was reported by the respected journalist Tony Stephens on 8 November 2005 in The Sydney Morning Herald.

But Carr said it was the trappings of vice-regal life that 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."  

But then he made this extraordinary claim:  "Your victory over Kerr is complete. The battlefield has been abandoned."

The reserve powers, he said, no longer existed. This 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. It would have astounded Paul Keating and Gareth Evans who spent vast amounts of time trying, unsuccessfully, to codify them.

 (Paul Keating recently said that had he been PM, he would have placed the Governor-General under house arrest, a view held by the former Indonesian dictator Suharto.)

Then Carr dropped his bombshell. The reason he evicted the Governor was this potentially corrupting role of the vice-regal office.  He did this, then, to diminish the office, and to neuter or at least weaken any discretionary power the Governor might have over a Premier who had behaved illegally or unconstitutionally. 

This explains Carr’s aside when he announced the eviction: “That’s one for Jack Lang.” Lang had been sacked for illegal acts.

We believe this was a calculated attack on the checks and balances of our constitutional system.  
 
As Lord Acton warned in those memorable words, power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  That is why our constitutional system places checks and balances on the exercise of power.

We now know the real reason for the eviction of the governors of New South Wales. It was to weaken or neutralize the exercise of a significant check and balance in our constitutional system.  

What should we do?  The answer is we must do something to preserve, to protect and to defend our constitutional system.  As Edmund Burke said: “It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, the reasons for this campaign go to the very heart of our constitutional system.

  • REMEMBER ALWAYS ACTON’S GREAT & TIMELESS LESSON TO US: THAT POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT, AND ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY.
     
  • REMEMBER THAT THE REASONS WE WERE TOLD FOR THE EVICTION WERE NOT ACHIEVED - TO SAVE COSTS, OR TO INCREASE PUBLIC ACCESS OR TO BRING THE GOVERNOR CLOSER TO THE PEOPLE.
     
  • REMEMBER - THEY WERE EVICTED BECAUSE OF THE RESERVE POWERS, THE CHECK AND BALANCE ON A GOVERNMENT BEHAVING UNCONSTITUTIONALLY OR ILLEGALLY
  • REMEMBER THE EVICTION WAS TO PERSUADE- THE GOVERNORS NOT TO EXERCISE THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL POWERS OVER POLITICIANS - IN OUR OPINION, TO INTIMIDATE THEM
  • SO WHAT DO THE CANDIDATES IN YOUR ELECTORATE THINK ABOUT THIS?
     
  • TELL THEM WHAT YOU THINK. TELL YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS, THE PRESS AND RHAT MOST DEMOCRATIC OF FORUNS, TALK BACK RADIO. AND DO TRY TO MENTION THE ACM SITE, ( anyone can find it from the letters ACM or the word "norepublic") WHERE  ANYONE CAN DOWNLOAD OUR BROCHURE AND FIND OUT MORE ABOUT OUR CASE.
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;"
[Henry V - Act III, Scene I]