Address To His Excellency The Governor Of New South Wales

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SpeakersCarr Mr Bob; Chikarovski Mrs Kerry; Souris Mr George
BusinessBusiness of the House

Page: 12024

    Mr CARR (Maroubra—Premier, Minister for the Arts, and Minister for Citizenship) [10.02 a.m.]: I move:
        That the following Address be adopted by this House and forwarded to His Excellency:

        To His Excellency the Honourable Gordon Samuels, Companion of the Order of Australia, Governor of the State of New South Wales in the Commonwealth of Australia.


        We, the Members of the Legislative Assembly, in Parliament assembled, desire to express our deep appreciation to your Excellency on the occasion of your vacation of the Office of Governor of New South Wales.

        We further offer your Excellency our sincere congratulations on undertaking the duties of your office with distinction and devotion and extend to your Excellency and Mrs Samuels the warm regards of the House.

    It is altogether appropriate and fitting that this House should pay tribute to His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales, the Hon. Gordon Samuels, AC, CVO, QC, on completion of his period as Governor of the State. We should honour him for the job that he has done and pay tribute to the hard work of both the Governor and Mrs Samuels. We should recognise the importance of the position of Governor and acknowledge the fact that the Hon. Gordon Samuels is the first Governor to complete the duties of the office without having lived in Government House. That residence is now an historic house museum for the people of New South Wales. I do not think that fact is contested any longer: the matter was explored at the beginning of the last election campaign but the Coalition then relegated the issue. Through their vote at the last State election, the people of New South Wales put paid to any suggestion that there was something wrong with the public owning Government House and having it as a house museum. When I had the honour to announce the appointment of Gordon Samuels in January 1996, I said, without reservation:
        The eminence of the new Governor reaffirms the significance of the Office.

    Gordon Samuels was the last Australian Governor to have served in the Second World War. In the tradition of Governor Macquarie, he was an officer in the British army. In coming to Australia he was returning to his father's former home in New South Wales and was part of the great, immensely productive wave of postwar immigration to Australia. Gordon Samuels had a distinguished career at the New South Wales Bar from 1952. He was a judge of the Supreme Court from 1974 to 1993, Chancellor of the University of New South Wales from 1976 to 1994 and Chairman of the Law Reform Commission from 1993 to 1996. His appointment engendered a bit of controversy because of the decision by the Government—by me—that the Governor would no longer live in Government House. But that was only one of a number of controversies that has surrounded the office of Governor from time to time.

    There was controversy in 1946 when my distinguished predecessor William McKell—a great Premier of New South Wales—insisted that he appoint an Australian as Governor of this State. Premier McKell recommended an Australian for that post but the Dominions office countered and gave the New South Wales Premier a list of 15 British generals, admirals and air vice-marshals. When Premier McKell said, "No, an Australian shall be Governor of New South Wales", as a trump card, Lord Addison of the Dominions office produced for appointment the name of the brother-in-law of King George VI. Lord Addison wrote to William McKell a letter that included the paragraph:
        I am happy to think that this solution has presented itself and sincerely hope that the honour of having the Queen's brother, the second surviving son of the late Earl of Strathmore, as Governor of your State is one that would greatly appeal to you and your colleagues.
    Well, it did not—and an Australian was appointed Governor of New South Wales. That was a trauma for many good citizens of New South Wales, as was the appointment of the first Australian Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs, by the Scullin Government. That appointment and the appointment of William McKell as Governor-General were also traumatic for the Dominions office. Honourable members may recall that Menzies called McKell's appointment a "black day" but then, to his credit, went on to work creatively and constructively with the former Premier of New South Wales. The events of 1946—the behaviour of Lord Addison and the Atlee Labour Government regarding the appointment of the King's brother-in-law and the months of wrangling with the Dominions office—remind me of the lines from Belloc's Cautionary Tales addressed by Lord Lundy to his wayward nephew:
        We had intended you to be,
        The next Prime Minister but three.
        The stocks were sold; the press was squared;
        The middle class was quite prepared.
        But as it is, my language fails.
        Go out, and govern New South Wales.
    We have moved beyond those days and we now happily contemplate—we would contemplate nothing other than—having an Australian as Governor of New South Wales and an Australian as Governor-General. Gordon Samuels was a very good choice as Governor of New South Wales and he has worked very effectively and very hard, supported at all times by Mrs Samuels. At a farewell dinner on Wednesday 21 February the Governor gave an excellent speech in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition and me. He spent some time dwelling on his happiness at having done without Government House. He said that he and his wife had moved into their retirement home at Bronte and the idea of moving after that into an official residence did not appeal to them. He accepted the appointment I canvassed with him. He was very happy with the proposition that a Governor no longer should live at Government House. He referred to that as a controversy at that time. He said:
        It was a pretty bouncy period.

    He said that the media were "permanently encamped about our house in Bronte"—and we all know what the media is like. He also said that it seemed "we had television cameras in the drawing room for several days on end." He went on to say:
        The whole thing seemed to be beaten up. It became a political issue.

    He said that the media, however, did not make any personal attack on his wife and also said:
        The furore continued on a diminishing scale for a year or more.

    Of course, it has been diminishing since then. The Governor went on to say during his speech last Wednesday night:

        I think now that there had been some misjudgment about the likely public reaction to the abandonment of Government House as a vice-regal residence, and to the possibility that the Governor would not devote all his time and energies to vice-regal duties. The opposition was mounted mainly by dedicated traditionalists, but others with various agendas joined the cause.

        I received a large quantity of letters urging me to insist upon a "return" to Government House, and upbraiding me for my spineless compliance with the plans of the villainous Carr. Many were "form" letters, composed and circulated for signature by one agency. Few were rational, and fewer still persuasive. But none was seriously offensive. In particular none contained any anti-semitic sentiments. One correspondent - if I may call her that - attributed my stubborn refusal to live at Government House to the assertion in Exodus (Chap 33 v 3) that the Jews "are a stiff necked people". I took this as rather a compliment, although I think that God originally intended otherwise. I have always thought that this absence of rancour and abuse was a significant tribute to the basic decency of our society.

        As time went on it became perfectly clear that the Governor was going to devote all of his time, and his wife all of her time, to the job, which they intended to perform in pretty much the usual way, including the pomp and ceremony of formal openings of Parliament. But those who nurtured doctrinal or psychological opposition to change refused to take any heed of the fact that their warhorse had foundered under them.
    He meant, if I have interpreted His Excellency correctly, that attempts to make a political issue out of the Governor not living at Government House did not last long as a warhorse. A few honourable members who are present would not have had the pleasure during the previous Parliament of hearing a dozen petitions every day from people who, I would have assumed, were members of Liberal Party branches. But we all know that there are few people in the Liberal Party branches these days. I remember those petitions lamented the fact that somehow the role of the Governor had changed because of the decision on the status of Government House. But as soon as Parliament convened after the election, the issue evaporated. There has not been a single petition on that theme since. Last Wednesday night the Governor said:
        We have been happy to live at home and work at Government House. I have never believed that residence at Government House was an essential requirement for the successful performance of my vice-regal duties. I venture to say that it is not. The current arrangement has been successful.

    Those are the words spoken by the Governor—the man who had the experience of doing his job under the terms of the policy that I announced in 1996, namely, no official residence. He, having done the job, was saying that it worked and that he did not need to live at Government House to do the job. He made this point:
        The House has been busier and more full of life over the last five years than it ever was before. We have held 760 vice-regal functions with about 47,000 guests. There have been nearly 550 functions in the communal and cultural program, with over 100,000 guests. In all, over half a million people have visited the House and grounds.

    I thought His Excellency made an excellent speech. It is testimony to the success of the new arrangements for Government House. Although not strictly germane to this motion of thanks which I ask the House to contemplate and to send to His Excellency, it would be interesting to hear whether the Opposition adheres to the policy of forcing—if necessary, at bayonet point—a future Governor to live at Government House. I will comment on the role that Mrs Samuels has played. She has been a very important part of vice-regal arrangements and work. She has travelled with His Excellency across New South Wales and she has been particularly important in working in the arts. She and her husband are very knowledgeable about the arts and, in common with the Governor designate, have been keenly interested in performance arts and visual arts. That is just one aspect of the work done by Mrs Samuels, but it is worth acknowledging.

    It was a pleasure to work with the Hon. Gordon Samuels, a man of education and high professional attainment. On Wednesday night, when we paid tribute to him, he remarked on what an enriching experience it was to get to know the people of this State, especially those of rural New South Wales. The role of Governor is very significant. The Governor is the Head of State in New South Wales. The Governor must see, among other duties, that the process of government is sound and that the processes work. This Governor has been quick to highlight any breaches in the flow of paperwork to the Executive Council that have come to his attention and that is part of the role of Governor. As the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Murray Gleeson, said recently:
        ... our form of government ... depends upon politics and politicians. Politics is what makes representative government work. People who regard political behaviour as essentially distasteful or unworthy overlook the fact that it is only through political organisation, advocacy and where necessary conflict, that we can hope to have a government that sufficiently represents and gives effect to the will of the people ... To despise politics is to despise democracy.

    The Chief Justice also noted "political legitimacy emerging from the political debate and struggle". When I paid tribute last Wednesday to the office of Governor in the presence of the Governor, I stated that the office of Governor now symbolises, more than anything else, the legitimacy of parliamentary democracy in New South Wales. To uphold that legitimacy calls for exceptional qualities of trust and integrity. The Hon. Gordon Samuels has displayed those qualities in full measure. He leaves the office of Governor with that office strengthened and renewed. He has served this State very competently and very diligently. In doing so, he has served and strengthened not only what I described last Wednesday as the honourable and venerable office of Governor of New South Wales, but also the cause of parliamentary democracy in Australia.

    Mr SPEAKER: Before calling the Leader of the Opposition, I draw the attention of the House to the presence in the gallery of the Lost Ladies history group. It seems appropriate that they join us today. I welcome them to the Parliament.

    Mrs CHIKAROVSKI (Lane Cove—Leader of the Opposition) [10.19 a.m.]: I join with the Premier in thanking the Hon. Gordon Samuels, the retiring Governor of New South Wales. As honourable members would be aware, the Hon. Gordon Samuels was born in England of Australian parents. He was educated overseas but returned to Australia in 1952 and became a member of the bar in New South Wales in that year. He has had a very distinguished career as both a lawyer and a judge and has been involved in a wide variety of community activities for many years, not only as Governor but also prior to his appointment. He has been very generous with his time and was appointed to a number of substantial positions by various governments.

    He was elected to the Council of the University of New South Wales and was Chancellor from 1976 to 1994. He was also a member of the Law Foundation of New South Wales, becoming chair of that organisation. It was in that capacity that my father first got to know the Hon. Gordon Samuels as he worked as a member of the Law Foundation. I first got to know the Hon. Gordon Samuels when he was appointed chair of the New South Wales Migrant Employment and Qualifications Board, a position that he held from 1992 to 1995. As Minister responsible for the board for a number of years I worked very closely with the Hon. Gordon Samuels. He had at his heart the interest of people coming to this nation. He believed very strongly that people who had been qualified overseas should be able to work in this country and worked tremendously hard on the board to make sure that people had every assistance in having their overseas qualifications recognised. I pay tribute to him for the work he did on the board.

    However, it is as Governor that he has become better known. As I said, he was a distinguished lawyer and judge but as Governor he was able to travel around New South Wales and to get to know the people of the State. At the dinner that the Premier referred to the Governor made many references in his speech to his enjoyment of the interaction with the people of New South Wales, particularly the people of Country New South Wales. He said that with his wife he had made more than 35 visits to country and regional New South Wales and that it was a measure of respect by the people of this State for the office of Governor that he was so warmly received on those visits. Many members of this House can relate to the Governor's remarks about morning and afternoon teas in Country New South Wales because of our own visits.

    As the Premier said, there was controversy over the Governor's decision not to live in Government House. There was a great deal of feeling about the issue and among some people that feeling remains. But it was never reflected personally on the Hon. Gordon Samuels. It was reflected against the Government at the time but it was never a reflection on the Governor. Gordon Samuels carried out his duties as the Governor very effectively. He has been a tremendous contributor to the State in all sorts of ways. People have to be constantly assured of the stability of government and the stability of the office of Governor. Following a turbulent period prior to the appointment of the Hon. Gordon Samuels he determined that there would be no continuing unrest once he became Governor.

    As the Premier has already said, Mrs Samuels supported the Hon. Gordon Samuels in his work. She has been a very active participant. She has been patron of many charities and generously given her time to others that are too numerous to mention. I recall sharing occasions with her when she spoke of her commitment to the people of New South Wales in much the same terms as her husband speaks of his commitment to the people of the State. The difference is that Mrs Samuels has done it in an honorary capacity. We should be grateful to her for giving of her time so generously.

    Whilst the Hon. Gordon Samuels is about to retire, he will be no less busy. During a discussion with him the other night he told me that, while he and his wife are planning to have some time to themselves and to travel overseas, his time following his governorship will be particularly busy. He is looking forward—as all of us do on occasions—to spending more time with his family. I spoke to his daughters the other night and asked them whether they thought that they would have any more time with him. Their reply was, "Probably not", but they are hoping that he will be able to spend a little more time with their grandchild. The younger daughter was recently married and they may be able to spend time overseas with her and her new husband. On behalf of my Coalition colleagues I thank the Governor and Mrs Samuels for their work during the Governor's time in office. I thank the Governor for his service to the people of New South Wales. We wish him all the best in his retirement and we look forward to his continued public service in other ways for this State.

    Mr SOURIS (Upper Hunter—Leader of the National Party) [10.25 a.m.]: I have pleasure in joining the Leader of the Opposition and the Premier, on behalf of the National Party and the people of rural New South Wales, in offering sincere and heartfelt congratulations to our Governor, the Hon. Gordon Samuels and to Mrs Jacqui Samuels, who have performed their duties with such distinction. I had the honour and pleasure of receiving the Governor on his first rural visit, to Merriwa in the electorate of Upper Hunter. The functions at the time related to the Festival of the Fleeces. It was a very cold encounter, and we have often dined out on some of the events that occurred during the Festival of the Fleeces, which would best be left out of the Hansard. I believe that the Governor discharged all his duties and obligations with distinction, particularly his role involving community organisations, especially those organisations in Country New South Wales, but also with charities and welfare groups and the multitude of institutions that encompass every facet of our society.

    Nonetheless, for the sake of historical accuracy I must correct a statement made by the Premier. During his speech he referred to the Governor as the Head of State in New South Wales. I must point out that the Head of State in New South Wales is her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and not the Governor. The Governor performs the vice-regal role. The Governor fulfils that role representing the Queen competently and with distinction. Indeed, the strength of our Constitution and the stability of our parliamentary democracy are exemplified by the role of past and present Governors. The present vice-regal constitutional arrangements serve our democracy well and nothing that has transpired during the term of past Governors or during the term of the present Governor alter the view that constitutional revolution is unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable to the vast majority of the population of New South Wales. Their will was reconfirmed particularly during the period when the Premier sought to downgrade and depower the role of Governor and particularly the role of Government House.

    Nothing that I have seen or heard since that time diminishes my view that the rightful and proper place, irrespective of whether it is of comfort to a Governor who may wish to be in semiretirement, the vice-regal office is the most important constitutional office in New South Wales and ought to be discharged fully—competently of course—and ought to be discharged at Government House, the figure point of our constitutional democracy in New South Wales. Nothing I have seen with past Governors or the present Governor alters the strength of those views, which are significantly held by the majority in New South Wales. With those words I again offer congratulations and heartfelt thanks from the people of New South Wales but in particular the rural constituency, for the marvellous job that Governor Gordon Samuels and Mrs Jacqui Samuels performed on behalf of the people.

    Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Face.