If rumours are correct, Tony Abbott wants John Howard to be Australia’s next Governor-General.
Fairfax Media has reported the Opposition Leader has sent a letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard demanding she not name a replacement for Governor-General Quentin Bryce, whose term will end next March.
The government is suspicious that Mr Abbott is hoping to keep the G-G position vacant in order to appoint his former boss, former primer minister John Howard.
But would former prime minister John Howard, the second longest serving PM in Australia’s history, be a suitable choice for the position?
If John Howard were to become the Governor-General, and thus the Queen’s representative in Australia, and while various politicians and former state premiers have held the position; Mr Howard would be the first former prime minister to become Governor-General.
While the role of the Governor-General is mostly symbolic these days, the G-G’s duties include:
- Issuing writs for new elections;
- Commissioning the Prime Minister and appointing other ministers;
- Appointing federal judges, Ambassadors and High Commissioners to overseas countries;
- Establishing royal commissions of inquiry;
- Giving assent to laws that have passed through both houses of parliament;
- In the role of official Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force, the G-G appoints the chiefs of the armed services and commissions officers in the navy, army, and air force. These duties are undertaken on the advice of the Minister for Defence;
- Receiving visiting heads of state;
- Opening sessions of parliament;
- Awarding honours for community service and bravery; and
- Attending community services and functions.
The potential appointment of John Howard to the role of Governor-General is an intriguing conundrum: is someone as politically minded as a former prime minister right for the job?
The Governor-General, despite being appointed by the Queen upon the advice of the Prime Minister, belongs to neither the Federal Government or the Opposition. Whenever the G-G makes a public statement, they must remain neutral, avoiding personal opinions and not commenting on political or other controversies.
To the average punter, it would seem difficult for Mr Howard, a former prime minister, and a Member of the Liberal Party, to remain so neutral in the public eye. Since the Coalition’s loss, and his own defeat by Maxine McKew in the 2007 election, Mr Howard has provided political commentary for various media outlets and is currently working on a second political book for publisher, Harper Collins.
If Mr Abbott were to nominate Mr Howard if he wins the September election, it would be a controversial choice – something Mr Abbott would be trying to avoid in his first term as prime minister.
The rumours could be just that. It would be beneficial for the Labor Party if disillusioned lefties thought this were a remote possibility; they could be convinced to vote for Labor, rather than the Greens or an independent. Furthermore, Mr Abbott will want to create his own legacy, and while Mr Howard has been his friend, his mentor and his leader, he should aim to create his own, unattached from the legacy of John Howard.