||Issue No. 131||12 April 2002|
Interview: Cross Wires
International: Two Tribes
Activists: Beneath the Veil
Unions: Terror Australis
History: A Labor Footnote To The Royal Funeral
Economics: Private Affluence, Public Rip-Off
Review: The Great Hall of the People
Poetry: Waiting for the Living Wage
Satire: Israel Recruits NAB To Close West Bank
The Locker Room
Week in Review
A Voice for the Shareholders
Noses in the Trough
Memo: Carmen Lawrence
Police: Make the Boss a Woman
Baby Faced Brogden
Workers Online - Aoteroa
A Labor Footnote To The Royal Funeral
This link occurred in the context of the Labor Party's pioneering insistence on appointing Australians to vice-regal posts. It was Labor Prime Minister James Scullin who appointed the first Australian-born Governor General (Isaac Isaacs) in 1931. And it was New South Wales Labor Premier Bill McKell who appointed the first native-born Governor of an Australian state (Lieutenant General John Northcott) at the end of World War II.
Northcott's appointment as NSW Governor, as revealed in Chris Cunneen's 2000 biography of McKell, went ahead in the face of stubborn quasi-Churchillian resistance in London.
In 1945 McKell nominated an Australian naval captain, John Armstrong, as the next Governor of New South Wales, a post held since 1788 by Britons. The proposed break with tradition was not appreciated by the British government even though it was now headed by the socialist Clement Attlee.
Additional nominees were called for. McKell duly provided a list of alternatives of whom Northcott was easily the most outstanding.
The Attlee government remained unhelpful. Dominions Secretary Lord Addison sought to frustrate McKell by pointing out that Northcott could not be appointed because he was about to become commander of the British Commonwealth Force in Japan.
Addison went on to tell McKell that King George VI was prepared to make a brother-in-law available for the appointment. This was to add insult to injury because the Queen's brother - the Honourable Michael Bowes-Lyon - was, in the words of Chris Cunneen, "an otherwise obscure, asthmatic businessman".
The Attlee Government's support for Bowes-Lyon was sadly inconsistent with its heroic efforts to transform post-war Britain into New Jerusalem. His only claim to fame was his double-barrelled surname. The British Labour government was trading on his sister's celebrity status as the Boadicea of the Blitz in an attempt to buff up the imperial link with New South Wales.
McKell stuck to his guns. Bowes-Lyon was dismissed as "unacceptable". McKell ended his prospects by getting a fellow Laborite, Prime Minister Ben Chifley, to release Northcott from his military duties. A hostile leak announcing Bowes-Lyon's supposed appointment appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald - which as a matter of principle "strongly questioned" the very idea of a native-born Governor - but this failed to stop Northcott becoming Governor.
McKell's veto of the Bowes-Lyon appointment was meant to underline Labor's historic commitment to national sovereignty. It served its purpose. All subsequent Governors of New South Wales have been home grown.
There is one final politician whose actions need to be commented on. Unpleasant memories have a long shelf life in the House of Windsor but it is never too later to assuage them. By going to London for the Queen's Mother's funeral John Howard, no doubt unintentionally, is in addition to more obvious reasons atoning for the slight paid to her brother by less loyal colonials all those years ago as the sun began to set on the British Empire. Having scuppered the republic he could hardly do less.
Stephen Holt is a Canberra author
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