Governors-General do important work

20 February 2019

I rise to speak on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019. As you know, the bill amends the Governor-General Act 1974 to set the salary for the next Governor-General, His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC (Retd). On 16 December 2018, the Prime Minister announced that the Queen had approved his recommendation to appoint His Excellency General the Hon. David Hurley AC DSC (Retd) as our next Governor-General following the retirement of His Excellency General the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd). General Hurley will be sworn in as Governor-General in June 2019.

Section 3 of the Constitution provides that the salary of the Governor-General shall not be altered during their continuance in office. As such, the salaries of governors-general are set prior to the commencement of their tenure. The bill amends the Governor-General Act 1974 to change the sum payable for the salary of the Governor-General from $425,000 to $495,000. In line with past practice, the proposed salary was calculated by reference to the estimated average salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia over the notional five-year term of the appointment of the Governor-General. The salary figure has been reduced to take account of General Hurley receiving a Commonwealth funded military pension.

Labor supports this bill. I, like other members of the Labor caucus and the opposition, welcome the appointment of General Hurley, and we're looking forward to his taking up of the office as Governor-General in June 2019. I want to take the opportunity, in speaking to the topic of governors-general, to place on the record some comments supporting the office and the work that it does. I'm well-known as being an avowed republican. I worked on the republican referendum in 1999. I was out there staffing the booths and encouraging a change, but that does not diminish my respect for the Queen and nor does it diminish my respect for the Queen's representative in Australia. I've long been a supporter of the important work that this office does, obviously not just in its official capacity of assenting to bills passed by this parliament but in the important leadership that the role shows. I want to pay tribute, of course, to our current Governor-General and to a couple of previous governors-general who I've certainly taken a lot of heart from in the work that they've done.

In respect of our current Governor-General, I have such great respect for him. He's been an excellent Governor-General, and I'm sure those opposite would agree. You see him at all sorts of community events. He's a well-known supporter of some of the most important cultural events that we have but also of some of the more grassroots style events. For example, you often see the current Governor-General at the annual walk for organ donation that takes place right here in Canberra. I see the Minister for Health nodding his head. I know he's a great supporter of organ donation, and it is very much a bipartisan position that we are lucky to have here in this House. I think it's important to pay tribute to the Governor-General for his support of such important causes. For many of us, organ donation is very dear to our hearts, particularly those who have lost loved ones, family and friends, and someone has then had to make the decision about whether to approve organ donation when registration may not have been filled out. It's a good reminder to all of us to make sure we do update our health records and get on the Organ Donation Register and have the conversation about organ donation with our family and friends.

I also wanted to mention that the current Governor-General is a much loved figure in Australia not only for the work that he did in East Timor in the time of the Howard government but, closer to home, for the work he did during Cyclone Larry. It is particularly pertinent to me because I've got family from Innisfail. I'm sure you will remember, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, the devastation that was wreaked on Innisfail by Cyclone Larry. Cyclone Larry, named after my father! As you would expect, he got a few jokes about that. But those jokes did really fade once the extent of the devastation on Innisfail was felt. Of course, you can't help but think of Cyclone Larry now, when you hear of the devastation of Townsville that has been caused by the recent floods. But our current Governor-General, well before he was Governor-General, was tasked with heading to Innisfail and helping to repair some of the devastation that had been caused, and that took many years. I know that my colleagues from the far north of Queensland, and from the north of Queensland, no matter which side of the House they might be on, would see that as a real template for modern responses to disaster relief.

Obviously, we've had some discussions in this House about the current response to the Townsville floods. I myself was in the 2011 Brisbane floods. We had a 10-month-old baby at the time, Deputy Speaker, so you can imagine that wasn't the most pleasant time, with all the power going out and people being flooded in. We were living in Bulimba. I digress, but it's important that disaster relief continue to be a focus for the Commonwealth, and of course, at the time, there was significant support provided by the Commonwealth to Brisbane through additional people from the Department of Human Services, and others, getting to Queensland to make sure that people were able to get the support that they needed.

So I know that people will very fondly miss the current Governor-General when he leaves the role. I'm quite sure that he will continue to be an active member of our community and a leader within our community.

In that respect, it would be remiss of me not to mention Dame Quentin Bryce, his predecessor as Governor-General. I am always so grateful for Dame Quentin Bryce's continued participation in important matters in our community. She regularly attends the Greenslopes Private Hospital's Anzac Day dawn service. For those who haven't been to that service, it's a beautiful dawn service, and I can recommend it if you do get to the electorate of Griffith. Greenslopes Private is an old Army hospital. It still has very strong focus on veterans. It's an excellent institution. You've probably heard, Deputy Speaker, of the Gallipoli Medical Research Foundation which is associated with that hospital and does very good work for veterans, including in relation to PTSD, a very important issue for veterans in our country and across the world. Former Governor-General Quentin Bryce continues, after leaving that office, to be a regular attendee of that beautiful dawn service and to lay a wreath, which I know that the veterans community and the broader community around Greenslopes and the suburbs that surround it really appreciate. We've certainly lost some veterans in recent years. Anzac Day morning is always very moving in my electorate, but having the former Governor-General attend is very special.

Since I'm mentioning governors-general, I should say, in respect of Dame Quentin Bryce, that, as she had such a sterling career prior to taking on the vice-regal role, she is a real role model and inspiration for a lot of women—young women, women my age, women who are older—about the role of a woman in public life. I know you would agree, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews, that she is someone who has always conducted herself with great grace but, at the same time, has been a real trailblazer—someone who stepped up into the law but also into community service well before it was common for women to do so. As well as acknowledging her community service post the role of Governor-General and, of course, the great work she did as Governor-General, I should recognise that she was an inspiration well before taking on the vice-regal role.

But I also want to mention the first Governor-General I ever saw in person. The reason I want to mention that is that I have been thinking of the people of Townsville in recent days and thinking of how that community comes together. I lived in Townsville for a few years a long time ago and I know firsthand how resilient the community is. Of course, everyone in this House will recall the Black Hawk disaster of the late 1990s. I was there at the time and, believe it or not, I was a student representative at the memorial service that was held at the Palmetum in Townsville in the wake of the Black Hawk disaster. Sir William Deane, who was Governor-General at the time, brought the best wishes of the entire Commonwealth with him, telling the community of Townsville that the nation's thoughts were with them at that horrible time. It's an Army town. It's an Air Force town. Everyone who lives in Townsville feels such an affinity with the Defence Force. They feel so close to those who serve. It's just inherent for someone who lives in Townsville to support the Army and support the Air Force, so it was a tragedy that really rocked the entire community and people were devastated. Having Sir William Deane come and express, with such grace, the wishes of the nation was really important for the healing in the wake of that terrible tragedy.

Showing leadership, speaking on behalf of the nation and being the democratically elected representative for the nation is something prime ministers can and should do. But, because the role of Governor-General is removed from political cycles and elections, it has a really strongly complementary role to the role of democratically elected representatives in bringing the nation together and showing great leadership.

The first time I really understood the office of Governor-General was in the wake of that disaster. So, in speaking to this bill, which relates to the rather less elevated matter of salary, I did want to place on record my thanks to all of those who've served in that office. But, of course, it's not really a salary; it's more in the nature of an honorarium. It's an acknowledgement of the weight upon the shoulders of the person in the office, and that's a very great weight to bear. We don't know what the future holds. Of course, none of us do. But, given the times that we live in—uncertain international times, uncertain times in relation to the impact of climate change on natural disasters and the likelihood of further significant weather events, and, of course, we've got a cyclone brewing off the coast of Queensland as we speak at the same time as Queenslanders are responding to an environmental disaster around Townsville—I think we can confidently predict that there will be challenges for the Governor-General into the future and, similarly, there will be a lot of pressure on that person. So I certainly wish General Hurley very well as he prepares to take up this important role. In a very real and practical way, our nation will rely upon him to help guide us through the challenges that are to come. Obviously, I don't wish to take up too much of the House's time on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary) Bill 2019—

Opposition members interjecting —

Ms BUTLER: I hear some calls for an encore from colleagues on the backbench.

Mr Hill: Tell us about Sir John Kerr!

Mr Watts: Give us some Isaac Isaacs!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Irons ): I've been very generous in allowing a breadth of debate here, but there is a limit.

Ms BUTLER: I'm very grateful for the suggestions from colleagues in the caucus on other governors-general that I might wish to mention. I take the interjection on Sir Isaac Isaacs. He was the first Australian-born Governor-General, as the shadow minister for defence said. His name was very influential in the naming of our son, Isaac, at the encouragement of my husband. So, thank you—I do take that interjection. Thank you to the member for Gellibrand, and I encourage the member for Gellibrand to continue to make suggestions for the improvement of my speeches to the House. Clearly, that was a very good one, and he ought to keep going. I'm not as convinced about the member for Hume's interjections. He is obviously welcome to speak in this debate about whichever governors-general he might choose, but he should continue—

An honourable member: Do you mean the member for Bruce?

Ms BUTLER: I do mean Bruce. Who is Hume?

Mr Hill: Hume is the big-stick guy.

Ms BUTLER: In that case, I deeply regret the implication that you might be in any way connected with Hume. I'm sure the people of Hume will look forward to finding another representative in the future. But the people of Bruce are very fortunate to have you, of course, Member for Bruce. But I digress.

It's an absolute honour to speak in relation to this bill. I wish the new Governor-General all the best with the important responsibilities that he assuming, and I certainly look forward to seeing him play an important role in our nation's future.