Constitution Amendment (Office Of Governor) Bill

About this Item
SpeakersArmstrong Mr Ian; Small Mr James
BusinessBill, Division, Second Reading


[Assembly bill]
Second Reading

Debate resumed from 19 September 1996.

Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [10.48 a.m.]: This bill puts the people of New South Wales first. It is the role of the Governor to represent the people of New South Wales in a totally impartial manner and to protect, most importantly, the Constitution of New South Wales. The Governor is the custodian of the Constitution. It is fair to say that as the debate about whether Australia should contemplate a form of republic or basically remain part of the monarchy intensifies, it is important for people to understand that the role of Governor is complementary to that of Governor-General, and that any changes to the Federal Constitution in terms of the role of Governor-General will immediately impact on the role of Governor and, therefore, the Constitution of New South Wales. So the debate about the future of the monarchy or a form of republic of Australia, which we will save for another time, is far from clear.

Many people have talked about Australia becoming a republic. There is no such thing as a republic - there is such a variety of them. Most importantly, the role of Governor-General cannot be changed without any changes having a major effect on the Constitution of New South Wales. That is one of the many reasons that the New South Wales Opposition supports the continuing role of Governor of New South Wales. It is one reason that the Opposition objects so vehemently to the cavalier, underhanded, ill-advised manner in which the New South Wales Labor Government led by Premier Carr attacked the office of Governor and, indeed, relegated the office of Governor and Government House to being simply another government department. Government House has become simply another government building as far as Premier Carr and the Labor Government are concerned.

This bill does what the Premier should have done in the first place - consult the people. Government House does not belong to the Premier or the Labor Government and the Governor is not the servant of the Premier and the Labor Government. The Governor represents the people of New South Wales. The office of Governor of New South Wales is the foundation stone of our system of democracy in the oldest working Parliament in the Commonwealth. This legislation will enshrine the right of the people to determine the future shape and structure of their democracy. It requires that any move to either abolish or downgrade the office of Governor or the role of Government House may not be enacted unless approved by way of referendum of the people of New South Wales. The Premier and the Labor Government simply ignored the people of New South Wales. The Premier did not ask the people whether they wanted a referendum, let alone offer them the opportunity to have a referendum.

It would have been a simple act of proper management and respect for our constituents, be they in the suburbs or the country, or in the north or south of the State, for the Government to have said that it would like to change the role of Governor and that of Government House and then to ask whether they would like a referendum. The Premier did not do that. He thought that he knew best. He wanted television coverage and he wanted to see himself on the front page of newspapers. He was simply headline grabbing. He was prepared to use the Governor and Government House. He is a user of the worst kind and he has been caught out in this little act. The bottom line is that the role of Governor and everything pertaining to it has little or nothing to do with the Premier; the Governor is the people's Governor.

This bill recognises that we live in one of the finest, most open democracies on this earth and that fundamental change will require the ultimate test - a test of the will of the people. Australians have long held passionately their right to assess constitutional change by referendum. Indeed, it is incumbent on all the States that their constitutions shall not be changed except by way of a popular majority at a referendum of those who are entitled to participate in this nation. That is why the Australian democracy is envied in the world today. The State Constitution as it now stands is silent on this issue. It is possible for the office of State Governor to be abolished without direct reference to the people. Of course, the government of the day may initiate a referendum proposal of its own will, but the Government did not do that.

This bill will give the people their guarantee. It will allow the Parliament to reach a view, in the first instance, but then requires a referendum of the people before assent may be granted. This bill requires legislation before action is taken to abolish the office of Governor, alter the vice-regal role of
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the Governor, diminish the Governor's constitutional powers, substantially diminish the general scope of the other functions of the Governor or alienate the whole or any part of Government House as the principal office or the venue for official functions formerly customarily performed at Government House. This bill gives the people of New South Wales their guarantee, rather than just an option, that the government of the day will consult them. The bill that I am asking the New South Wales Parliament to support will give the people of New South Wales their say in managing their Government House and their government. This bill will remove the politicians from the matter. It will remove the Bob Carrs from it and it will remove the Labor lackeys from trying to manipulate the oldest office of Governor in this nation, which is what the Government has been doing. This bill gives the people of New South Wales a guarantee, rather than an option, that the government of the day will consult them.

Mr E. T. Page: They did at the last election.

Mr ARMSTRONG: They will do it at the next election, too. The office of Governor is the foundation of our democracy, and the people must enjoy a full decision-making power should any change be proposed. The issue must be put beyond doubt, and the people of New South Wales must be given an assurance under law that their voice will be heard. After all, it is the voice of the people on such matters that should count before the voice of any politician, let alone the Premier and Labor members, who have abused the privileges of their office and the opportunity to administer and manage in a proper manner, in accordance with the Constitution and the will of the people of New South Wales.

The Premier has not consulted the people, the Labor Cabinet or the Parliament about the role of Governor. Did the Premier consult the Labor Cabinet or have its full support? Did the Premier take the matter to the Labor caucus and did caucus support the changes? I suspect that those questions will go down in history as unanswered, because the Premier is not about to consult his Cabinet or caucus, or to make a public statement. I am fairly sure that he did not consult his Cabinet or caucus, and I do not think that caucus or Cabinet will sell out the Premier at this stage. Those questions will remain unanswered unless the Premier is honest and provides answers.

On 16 April 1995 the press reported the Premier's commitment to a review of the office of Governor - no details, just a review. Those reports stated that the successor to the incumbent, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, might be the last. By 7 June 1995 the rhetoric was changing. The Premier is reported as saying that Rear Admiral Sinclair's successor would be the last. In a couple of months we went from a position in which Rear Admiral Sinclair's successor might be the last Governor to one in which his successor would be the last Governor. Along with that shift came an action that caused deep concern - a move to strip the use of the word "Crown" in the titles of State offices such as Crown Solicitor. That legislation was the signal that a sleazy, sneaky, personal elitist republican agenda was under way, not an open populist agenda supported by the people in open consultation. Of significance was the Carr Labor Government's unilateral action, treating the electorate with contempt. Indeed, it was noted that in this place - the mother of democracy in New South Wales - the crown disappeared from the uniforms of some staff.

Mr E. T. Page: It is the end of civilisation as we know it. I am glad that I am here to hear this.

Mr ARMSTRONG: I am glad that the Minister is here to make a fool of himself and to insult the Crown and the electors of New South Wales. Good one, Ernie! You are being recorded on television. You are an insult to your people -

Mr E. T. Page: You haven't got a crown on.

Mr ARMSTRONG: Yes, I have a crown on.

Mr E. T. Page: Where?

Mr ARMSTRONG: I have a crown right here.

Mr E. T. Page: It's upside down.

Mr ARMSTRONG: It is the right way up. The Minister could not see if the lights were turned on. Where was the Premier's mandate? I ask members on the Government benches whether during the election campaign or in the lead-up there was anything in the promotional material, the advertising, the briefings or the press releases, or anything discussed with backbenchers, in the branches or in the whole Labor movement, to indicate that the Premier, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, intended to change the role of the Governor and the role of Government House? Did anybody know anything about that? There is absolute silence, even from the Minister for Local Government, who just made a mockery of the Crown. He is not even prepared to defend that.

Mr E. T. Page: Defend what?

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Mr ARMSTRONG: That the Labor Party discussed this move or was in any way advised of -

Mr E. T. Page: It was fully in support.

Mr ARMSTRONG: The Minister still ducks the issue. In a speech delivered by the Premier on 14 September 1995 on the implications of the republican debate for New South Wales he said:
      . . . accordingly, the months and years ahead, leading, I believe inevitably towards the republic.

Mr E. T. Page: Are you telling lies?

Mr ARMSTRONG: The Minister is getting carried away with his own rhetoric.

Mr E. T. Page: Your leader supports it.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister will cease interjecting.

Mr ARMSTRONG: I am the leader and I am a monarchist. The Premier went on to say:
      When my government considers the appropriate role, status and appurtenances of the Office of Governor we will be guided by the provisions of the Australian Constitution - and the foresight of the Founders. But on this and all related matters we want to ensure that there is full and informed debate. We are currently considering mechanisms to encourage the widest public participation in this debate.

What a joke! The Premier's idea of full and informed debate was to prorogue Parliament to avoid any debate on this issue, and to ignore the people of New South Wales. On 16 January 1996 the Premier announced that the Governor-designate would not take up residence in Government House and that he would be a part-time Governor. That was a very grim day for New South Wales. For the first time in the history of New South Wales, since the first Governor took office, the role was going to be changed - once again, without any reference to the people. My fears were realised: not only had he attacked the role of the Governor but Government House was now part of the package.

The Premier had no right and no mandate to dismiss 208 years of history and change the role of the Governor and the functions of the 159-year-old Government House without consulting the people. What right, what sanction, what support did the Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr, have to dismiss 208 years of our history - the oldest and richest tapestry of history in this nation? On a personal whim he decided to change the course of history - as an individual. He decided the functions of Government House without consulting the people. He decided to make Government House, which had been the residence of many Governors - administering this State, Western Australia and New Zealand over the years - into another public building. It has been said before and I will say it again: if the National and Liberal parties are returned to government in March 1999 one of their first acts will be to restore Government House and the Governor to their original, traditional and historic positions. That commitment will be carried out.

There will be no changing of the course of history in this State by the conservative parties. We will not treat the people with the contempt that they have been treated with by Labor. The Premier placed the incumbent Governor, whom I have met and have a great deal of respect for, in a compromising position by keeping him as head of the Law Reform Commission. Honourable members will recall the conflict caused by the Governor being placed in the invidious position of being head of the Law Reform Commission after being appointed as part-time Governor. In a television interview that the Premier knew would be shown across New South Wales and Australia, when asked whether there was a conflict of interest and a contradiction between the Governor being also head of the Law Reform Commission, he said, "So what?" It was a display of abject ignorance. Legal advice confirmed that a conflict of interest existed as long as the Governor continued in his capacity as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission. The Premier should have thought about this. He did not consult with his colleagues. He blew it.

He did not have the benefit of the advice of the Attorney General or the Cabinet Office, which would have indicated the problems he was getting himself into. Those accusations have been made many times in the last 12 months. They have never been denied. Even the Minister for Local Government, who has not been particularly tactful or bright, is not prepared to refute what I have said. It is a fact that the Premier acted on his own impulse. When you are an arrogant and ignorant Premier you think you know best. Who can forget his performance in the House when he was asked during question time why he did not publish an Executive Council document on the Semple matter in the Government Gazette? He responded with a little jig and said, "I made the decision because I am the Premier. I am the Premier." The man is a bit of a joke. It is unfortunate that New South Wales has to endure another 23 months of the Premier. He obviously lacks the capacity to recognise history, people's rights and his responsibilities.

The Commissioner of the Independent Commission against Corruption, Mr O'Keefe, and the New South Wales Bar Association publicly
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expressed their concern about the Governor's conflict of interest. The Premier and the Labor Government have previously supported the Independent Commission Against Corruption. This dictatorial style of leadership is out of step. The Premier was responsible in part for the 7.5 per cent swing against Labor in the Federal election. The electorate and his own members told him so. Backbench members demanded to see the Premier to express their anger at his dictatorial style. It has never been refuted that backbenchers told the Premier, "You cost us government in Canberra." In many cases backbenchers understand how people in the community think. They knew that the people of New South Wales were not only offended but disgusted that the Premier of New South Wales had sold them out and taken away something that was rich and cherished by the people of this State, and something that they are very proud of: the roles of Governor and Government House. Caucus leaks like a sieve. Labor members were flat out distancing themselves from the Premier. In the Daily Telegraph on 8 February 1996, under the heading "Caucus rebukes Carr on Governor", there was a report that the Premier had been castigated by his colleagues. [Time expired.]

Mr SMALL (Murray) [11.08 a.m.]: I feel honoured to support the Leader of the National Party on the Constitution Amendment (Office of Governor) Bill 1996. Over the past two centuries New South Wales has been honoured to have a representative of, at this time, Her Majesty the Queen, or previous British monarchs. New South Wales has had three Governors in the time I have been a member of Parliament: Rear Admiral Sir David Martin, Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair and Gordon Samuels. The State is fortunate to have had such excellent representatives of the Queen. It would be tragic if the Queen was not represented in New South Wales by the Governor. Government House was built on behalf of the people for the representative of Her Majesty the Queen. It is disgraceful for the Premier to have changed the role of the Governor and of Government House without the people of New South Wales being given the opportunity to express their opinion.

Over the last two years the Premier has introduced many changes and the voice of the people has been heard very strongly. Petitions are still being received in this House from those in New South Wales who are violently opposed to changing the role of the Governor and Government House. The Governor visits many areas and is greatly respected in rural New South Wales. He is the patron of several hundred organisations, and his wife is the patron of many women's organisations. The extent to which country people value that patronage is evident when the Governor and his wife visit the organisations around the State of which they are patrons. Those from country New South Wales are gracious to the Governor and his wife. Any Premier who suggests that Australia may become a republic is treading a very dangerous path.

Honourable members will remember the 15,000 people who marched in protest when the Premier tried to introduce a part-time Governor and to deprive the Governor of the use of Government House. I enjoyed the company of some of those 15,000 people who marched in protest at what the Premier did. In response to the protests the Premier had to change his mind and appoint Gordon Samuels as a full-time Governor. It is disappointing that the Governor and his wife do not have the comfort of living in Government House. The Governor and his wife have now made five trips to the Murray electorate. On those occasions they listened to the problems of my constituents, who explained the points at issue. Those problems are perhaps occurring because of a lack of Government initiative. The Governor brings those problems back to Sydney with him and they make him stop and think when he is asked to proclaim legislation.

I have been informed that the Governor is willing to advise the Premier that certain legislation should perhaps be changed before it is proclaimed. That demonstrates that the Queen's representative identifies with the needs of the people of this State. The Leader of the National Party has taken the initiative by introducing this bill into this House. I am pleased to support the amendment contained in the bill, which provides that the constitution cannot be changed without a referendum of the people of this State. The Premier of this State, no matter which party he represents, should deny the people the opportunity to express their opinion. I strongly support the bill that has been brought before the House by my leader. Any member who votes against the bill does not want New South Wales to have a fair Constitution in the future and does not want the Queen's representative in New South Wales to be treated fairly.

Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan - Leader of the National Party) [11.13 a.m.], in reply: The long and protracted debate on this bill has continued since last year. I thank speakers from both sides of the House for their contributions. The speakers on this side of the House have recognised the importance of the bill passing through Parliament. At the outset I asked Parliament to support this legislation, not so much in the interests of the Parliament but in the interests of the people of New South Wales. Members in this place - whether they are Labor, National, Liberal or Independent - sometimes forget that their responsibility is to represent the people who elected them. None of us would be here if the majority of
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people in our electorates had not supported us, and we have certain responsibilities.

This legislation is fundamental to democracy in New South Wales. It is fundamental to every person in New South Wales and, as far as the Opposition is concerned, it is fundamental to the future of New South Wales. There is no real excuse or reason for any member voting against the bill. Indeed, the role of the Parliament of New South Wales would be reinforced if the bill received the unanimous support of both Houses. The people of New South Wales have spoken by means of an enormous demonstration. It might be forgotten that more than 15,000 people demonstrated outside Parliament House in January 1996. When the Premier saw the number of people at that rally, that was probably the turning point.

In the main, very few of those people had ever demonstrated before in their lives. They were not the normal demonstrators who are often seen in Macquarie Street. There were young people and middled-aged people. They came from all walks of life. They came from every side of politics, and were of every colour, creed and religion. They were at the rally because something they cherished was being taken away from them. It was a most moving moment as a democratic Parliament was asked by its people to respect their wishes. All I am doing now is putting forward their wishes to this Parliament. As my honourable colleagues remind me, the petitions continue to be received. For well over 12 months a number of petitions have been presented in this place every day the Parliament has sat. The petition relating to the Governor of New South Wales has the largest number of signatures of any petition in the history of this Parliament. In an emotional three-week or month-long period people might sign petitions about a multitude of issues, but they will not continue to sign a petition for more than 12 months unless they feel a deep-seated hurt.

No-one is advertising or soliciting people to sign the petition. People are still volunteering and seeking to sign it. It is clear that the people of New South Wales realise that the Governor acts as the custodian of the Constitution. Bills passed by the Parliament cannot become law until they are given assent by the Governor. The Governor does this on the advice of the Executive Council but it should never be interpreted as a rubber-stamping operation. The people appreciate that. They want that process to continue from Government House, arguably the oldest and most prestigious Government building in this nation today. I commend the legislation to the House. In doing so I ask all honourable members to follow their conscience and, most importantly, to remember those in the community who have spoken so volubly about this matter on repeated occasions since the Labor Government thumbed its nose at the people of New South Wales and their rights.

Question - That this bill be now read a second time - put.

The House divided.
Ayes, 43

Mr Armstrong Mr Oakeshott
Mr Beck Mr O'Doherty
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Rixon
Mr Collins Mr Rozzoli
Mr Cruickshank Mr Schipp
Mr Debnam Mr Schultz
Mr Ellis Ms Seaton
Ms Ficarra Mrs Skinner
Mr Fraser Mr Slack-Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Small
Mr Hartcher Mr Smith
Mr Hazzard Mr Souris
Mr Humpherson Mr Tink
Dr Kernohan Mr J. H. Turner
Mr Kinross Mr R. W. Turner
Mr MacCarthy Mr Windsor
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Mr Merton Mr Jeffery
Ms Moore Mr Kerr
Noes, 49

Ms Allan Mr Markham
Mr Amery Mr Martin
Mr Anderson Ms Meagher
Ms Andrews Mr Mills
Mr Aquilina Mr Moss
Mrs Beamer Mr Nagle
Mr Clough Mr Neilly
Mr Crittenden Ms Nori
Mr Debus Mr E. T. Page
Mr Face Mr Price
Mr Gaudry Dr Refshauge
Mr Gibson Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knight Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Woods
Mrs Lo Po' Mr Yeadon
Mr Lynch Tellers,
Mr McBride Mr Beckroge
Mr McManus Mr Thompson

Mr Peacocke Mr Carr

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Question so resolved in the negative.

Motion negatived.