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Byron Shire
November 30, 2021

To be elected, or not elected, is the question

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For many years now I have hated the phrase ‘an elected prime minister’ or ‘an elected government’.

I have always considered it a deliberate attempt by journalists to mislead people about the nature of our parliament and government.

Their misinformation appears to be successful despite the fact that nobody in an Australian general election has ever seen a ballot paper with the names of candidates for the office of prime minister.

Prime ministers and other government ministers are appointed by the governor general because they can demonstrate that they have the support of the majority of the House of Representatives. Even Julia Gillard could do that after negotiations with cross bench MPs.

There was one notable exception to this model. On 11 November 1975 governor general Kerr, defying all expectations and constitutional conventions, dismissed Gough Whitlam and appointed Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser prime minister.

A vote of no confidence was immediately passed upon Fraser’s return to the parliament. He then advised his governor general to dissolve the parliament and call a general election.

If anybody had previously been confused about the attainment of the office of prime minister they surely could not be after 11/11/75. It is not by election.

That was why I was so disappointed and angry to read the phrase ‘the elected government’ in Mungo MacCallum’s column last week (27/4/16).

I am certain Mungo knows all about appointment of prime ministers and all other government ministers by governors general.

So why is he adding his own little dose of misinformation? It is little wonder that so many Australians are ignorant of the way their government works if people like Mungo, who we expect to shed some light on the tawdry business, join in the chorus of obfuscation.

Regarding recalcitrant senators, double dissolution elections and the role of governors general, in 1974 prime minister Gough Whitlam advised the governor general to dissolve both houses of parliament and call a double dissolution election because a bill for the creation of Medicare (then known as Medibank) and various other bills had been blocked twice by the Liberal majority in the Senate.

In 2016 it appears inevitable that prime minister Malcolm Turnbull will advise his governor general  to dissolve both houses of parliament and call a double dissolution election because a bill for the re-creation of the ABCC has been blocked twice by a majority of senators.

It seems we are being asked to regard the creation of a Liberal union bashing tribunal as of similar importance to the creation of Medicare, the basis of our system of medical insurance and one of the most important institutions in the government of Australia.

Although Steven Conroy appeared to be somewhat confused about the roles of governors general Kerr in 1975 and Peter Cosgrove in 2016, I don’t think that he mindlessly missed the point as Mungo described.

Yes, Cosgrove acted on the advice of his prime minister and Kerr denied it. However, they both acted on behalf of their respective Liberal Party leaders, the two Malcolms, Turnbull and Fraser.

I think that was the consistency that Conroy had in mind but he botched the explanation when he spoke about it.

It seems odd that the Liberals should regard it as an insult to Cosgrove that he should be considered equivalent to somebody who is surely one of their heroes.

On the other hand Whitlam said that nobody, not even God, would save the then governor general.

Mike Trevaskis, Alstonville


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