An article in the Sydney Morning Herald online (16/2/17) entitled “A costly anachronism: it’s time to evict the NSW governor again” is inaccurate in several instances.
The facts are: In 1996 the republican Premier, Bob Carr arbitrarily decided that, following the retirement of Governor Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair AC, the new Governor of NSW, former Justice Gordon Samuels, would live outside Government House and occupy offices in Macquarie Street and retain his position as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission of New South Wales meaning that he would be a part-time governor.
When Rear Admiral Sinclair departed Government House there was a rally organised by members of the NSW Parliament supported by monarchist groups. There was also a line-up outside Government House to peacefully protest at the change. (Monarchists are never aggressive or violent when they infrequently protest).
I met with the new Governor, Gordon Samuels, and he agreed that he would give up his position with the Law Reform Commission, that he would be a full-time governor and moreover that he would ensure that Government House would not be used for political reasons. Therefore, the Governor became a full-time governor in 1996, not when Barry O’Farrell became Premier in 2011, although he did make Government House the official residence once again.
At this stage, let me make it clear that under Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, Government House was frequently open to the public and was often used to help community groups with functions both within the House as well as in the grounds. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren went through Government House during his time and that of his predecessors. It was never used as the private property of the Governor.
Whilst it is true that there is a cost associated with the running of Government House ($5.7 million for 2016-17) that cost includes administration and is nothing compared to the preservation of our system of governance which, with its checks and balances, ensures that politicians cannot do as they would wish. There is a constitution that binds them and it is the Governor’s job to ensure that they follow the rules.
As an interesting aside, some years later Governor Samuels attended a lunch we organised for the Queen Mothers hundredth birthday at which he told me that he had changed his stance and was more supportive of our system of constitutional monarchy. He became an active governor following upon the example set by his predecessors.