June 15, 2013

Horse 1500 - In Defence of the Governor-General

Before I go any further I should like to point out that I spent most of last night carefully considering my first words for this edition of Horse because I realised that they had to be quite prolific, so then, here it goes:

Welcome to Horse 1500.

Do I like the idea that a single person should wield all the power of the state? No; such a thing is tyranny and to be honest although it might work if you have a particularly benevolent ruler, when it goes wrong (and this goes for any absolute monarch, despot or tyrant) it goes horribly wrong.

No, what I am arguing in favour of is the current system and specifically why having a Queen or King 10,000 miles away and someone to act as their "representative" who isn't ultimately bound by any decisions that the Monarch makes, is weird but surprisingly good.

Firstly, what are the powers of the Governor-General?
According to Section 2 of the Constitution, the Governor-General has "such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him". Section 58 says that they can return bills to the Parliament and suggest amendment or withhold assent to them. Section 60 says that they may set bills aside for the Queen to sign, or withhold assent to them. Section 64 says that he can appoint or dismiss ministers and Section 5 says that they can set the times that Parliament sits, dismiss the entire parliament or prolong the Parliament.
Section 68 even officially places the command of naval and military forces under the Governor-General.
All together, the actual power wielded by the Governor-General is both wide and yet deliciously vague.
The remarkable thing is that across the three nations which have in principle the most similar system of government (Australia, New Zealand and Canada - and I'm careful not to include the United Kingdom by virtue of the fact that the monarch is resident and not represented by a Governor-General), that the governance which results from this is incredibly stable. Not one of them has had a civil war; not one of them has had the Governor-General be a force for bad.

Even in 1975, the Governor-General acted within his Section 5 and Section 57 powers to dissolve the Parliament. No really, read through the words of the section:
If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it...
Quite obviously by November 11 1975, the parliament still had not passed the budget; since the budget was introduced on May 6 1975, the  the Governor-General's decision to dissolve the Parliament, occurred six months and five days after it had been introduced.
What people often forget about that, was that an emergency budget was passed that afternoon after 2pm and the announcement of the election was made; thus Section 57 was adhered to.

November 11 1975 shows above anything else that the Governor-General can use their powers even if most of the time they don't. In Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, Brutus remarks that: "The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power." If anything, the ambiguousness of reserve powers which have been given to the Governor-General have meant that everyone who has executed the office, has adjoined temperance with power and thus deserves the plaudits of greatness.

Of course, if it was decided that Australia should become a republic; if nothing was changed other than the direct election of the Governor-General (which seems to be the most favoured option), then by voting for someone, it must by inference politicise the position and with that, produce a mandate for them to actually do something.
I would prefer the state that we have now where because of ambiguousness of reserve powers which are assigned to the Governor-General they're not inclined to use them.

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