A Governor-general From The Chairman’s Lounge

Written by:
4 April 2024
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Originally Appeared In

This article was originally published in Australian Financial Review on or about 4 April 2024 and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. 

It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

The PM is truer than he knows when he says Sam Mostyn represents modern Australia. It’s a nation of talkers, not doers.

It’s official. The Qantas Chairman’s Lounge really does run the country. We’ve always suspected it, but now we know it.

That’s the best way to understand Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s decision to appoint Sam Mostyn Australia’s next governor-general.

Mostyn has been described as a “businesswoman”. Another description of her might be as a “professional company director”. (Apparently when Mostyn became a non-executive director of Virgin Australia, her Chairman’s Lounge membership was cancelled. But the point still stands.)

Albanese says Mostyn “represents the best of modern Australia”. Seldom have truer words been spoken. Sadly.

Australia has become a nation of talkers, not doers. Mostyn has collected numerous credentials and titles, but in truth, her achievements are thin. She has talked about how she gained some of her roles because of her gender.

If Albanese was so determined to appoint as governor-general a cool, woke, get-with-the-vibe of whatever progressive cause is trending identity from business, he should have gone the whole hog. Mike Cannon-Brookes has at least built something, employed people, and generated wealth. (We’ll probably never know whether Cannon-Brookes was considered for the position.)

What should have disqualified Mostyn are her high-profile positions on several highly contested and controversial issues.

Of the numerous puff profile pieces written about Mostyn over the years, one consistent theme emerges. She is very good at lobbying the government. To say this is not to slight her. That’s the system, and Mostyn has devoted her talents to playing, and playing it well.

Her appointment has been described as “political”, and it certainly is. It’s the most political appointment of a governor-general since 1947, when Ben Chifley convinced the Labor premier of NSW, William McKell, to take the role.

How the Labor Party has changed, and how Australia has become “modern”, to use the prime minister’s phrase, is captured in how McKell and Mostyn each started their working lives. McKell was a boilermaker and a trade unionist; Mostyn a corporate lawyer.

There have been former Liberal and Labor politicians as governors-generals since then, but Mostyn’s elevation is different. It’s not just that she was an ALP staffer, has barracked for the teals, and is reported to have attended Albanese’s election victory party in 2022. That’s basically par for the course for a company director in Australia these days. Those things don’t necessarily rule her out for the job of governor-general.

However, if the situation was reversed and a Liberal prime minister appointed someone with the sorts connections to the Liberal Party that Mostyn has to the ALP, Labor politicians would be yelling “jobs for Liberal mates”.

What should have disqualified Mostyn from being appointed governor-general are her high-profile positions on several highly contested and controversial issues.

As a private citizen, she is entitled to, for example, endorse the slogan of radical separatism – “always was, always will be” – and support the view that Australia was invaded by the British. But from July 1, Mostyn won’t be a private citizen. It’s never a good sign when people delete their comments on social media, which is what Mostyn has done.

Liberal leader Peter Dutton and Nationals leader David Littleproud were perhaps too quick to congratulate Mostyn on her new role. They didn’t need to go as far as Robert Menzies did after McKell’s appointment – Menzies said it was “shocking and humiliating”.

At the very least, the Coalition was entitled to ask, on behalf of the overwhelming majority of Australians who don’t share the next governor-general’s interpretation of the country’s history, whether she still holds her previously expressed views.

This newspaper’s political editor, Phillip Coorey, got to the heart of what Labor is doing: “Mostyn’s appointment continues the trend of the Albanese government using new appointments to reshape institutions as it sees fit, whether it’s the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Productivity Commission or, now, Admiralty House.” To this list could be added numerous judicial and extra-judicial appointments.

Labor plays politics and fights for its vision harder than the conservatives. The reason Labor ends up changing the country, despite losing many more elections than it wins, is that when it’s in power, it does something with that power.

Starting in a few months, Sam Mostyn will be Australia’s Governor-General for the next five years – regardless of the result of the next federal election.

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This article was original published in The Australian Financial Review and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

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