Above politics? GG on gay marriage and a republic

Quentin Bryce

The Governor General has broken with convention by weighing in on controversial political issues, voicing support for gay marriage and an Australian republic. The comments have sparked debate, writes John Warhurst.

- Eureka Street

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, addressed many issues in her Boyer Lectures. The first three attracted only moderate attention but she burst onto the front pages when she signed off her final lecture by revealing her long term hope that Australia might become a nation where 'people are free to love and marry whom they choose. And where perhaps ... one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation's first head of state.'

Her aspirations were reported as putting her at odds with her Prime Minister in supporting both gay marriage and a republic, though Tony Abbott publicly agreed that it was appropriate that Bryce should express her personal views in a graceful style as she came to the end of her term.

The controversy shows how careful a governor-general is expected to be. It should also open a conversation not only about how future governor-generals should act but also, if Bryce's aspiration comes true, about how a future Australian president should act. The Boyer series is an important part of our cultural life. Recent lecturers have included Marcia Langton, Geraldine Brooks, Glyn Davis, Peter Cosgrove, Rupert Murdoch and Noel Pearson. The next governor-general may well come from among this group.

The lectures were always a potentially risky venture, one that no previous governor-general has attempted while in office. She could have accepted on condition that she spoke next year. Governors-general give many talks and speeches but none of this standing and potential scope. Their impartial, non-partisan role normally encourages them to err on the side of being carefully bland rather than bold where major public issues are concerned. Bryce was brave and her decision may well come to be seen as a further step in the development of the role of governor-general.

Her topic was 'Back to the grassroots'. Her emphasis, drawing on her life as an academic, lawyer, feminist and community and human rights advocate as well as Governor-General, has been on building communities, courage in everyday life, the powerful role of women in Australia and across the world and the future of Australian citizenship.

She was not afraid to speak about themes with such clear policy implications that they carry with them danger signs. In the second of her lectures, for instance, she spoke about the international disgrace, shared in full measure by Australia, of violence against women.

FULL STORY GG Break Bold not Bland

RELATED COVERAGE

Quentin Bryce and the Lost Cause (Quadrant)

FURTHER COVERAGE:

Read Amanda Vanstone, former Liberal minister: HERE (The Sydney Morning Herald)

Listen to Her Excellency's Boyer Lecture in full : HERE (ABC Radio National Boyer Lectures)

Watch debate from Channel Ten's Wake Up program : HERE (tenplay.com.au)

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