Australia: Burying Howard's flawed conservatism, PM Rudd appoints a feminist Governor-General Print E-mail

The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Monday April 14 2008

'A great day for women'


Symbolic … Mr Rudd and Ms Bryce. "It is obvious that we needed to have a governor-general … who captures the spirit of modern Australia," Mr Rudd said yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Mark Davis Political Correspondent

QUENTIN BRYCE, who will be Australia's first female governor-general, declared yesterday: "It's a great day for Australian women."

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Ms Bryce would capture "the spirit of modern Australia" in the vice-regal position.

Mr Rudd said he expected Ms Bryce would use her role to give a voice to women, people from the bush and indigenous Australians. Asked about the significance of appointing a woman to the position for the first time, he said: "It's taken us 107 years. It's been a while but it's good that it's happened."

Ms Bryce said the role was a great honour and responsibility. "I grew up in a little bush town in Queensland of 200 people, and what this day says to Australian women and to Australian girls is that you can do anything, you can be anything," she said. "It makes my heart sing to see women in so many diverse roles across our country in Australia."

Ms Bryce, 65, will become the 25th governor-general on September 5, when Major General Michael Jeffery steps down after serving in the vice-regal position since 2003. A prominent feminist and campaigner for women's rights, Ms Bryce was a lawyer specialising in anti-discrimination and human rights law before becoming the Governor of Queensland in 2003.

Raised in the outback Queensland town of Ilfracombe, she was the first female academic in the University of Queensland's law school and was the federal sex discrimination commissioner from 1988 to 1993.

Ms Bryce has been married for 43 years to the designer and architect Michael Bryce. They have two daughters, three sons and five grandchildren.

Her appointment as the next governor-general was announced days after it was confirmed that Australia would get its first female Anglican bishop, Kay Goldsworthy, the archdeacon at St George's Cathedral in Perth.

Governors-general are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister. Mr Rudd advised Queen Elizabeth to appoint Ms Bryce when he met the Queen in London last week.

The governor-general exercises powers on the advice of the government of the day, including giving royal assent to legislation, making senior executive appointments and acting as the commander-in-chief of the Australian Defence Force. In recent years governors-general have used the position to promote social issues and have travelled around the country to meet ordinary citizens. Mr Rudd said every governor-general put a personal stamp on the position.

"I am sure [Ms Bryce] will do so reflecting on her strong commitment to the bush, to the rights of women and to indigenous Australia," he said.

"It is obvious that we needed to have a governor-general for Australia who captures the spirit of modern Australia. And the spirit of modern Australia is many things - giving proper voice to people from the bush and the regions, giving proper voice to the rights of women … and proper place to someone committed to improving the lives of indigenous Australians."

The Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, said Ms Bryce would serve the country with distinction.

The former Victorian premier Joan Kirner said: "All we have got to have now is a female chief justice and a female prime minister. It means, after 200 years, we are finally beginning to reflect the diversity of Australia."

The appointment continues a series of symbolic measures by Mr Rudd aimed at portraying him as a younger leader with fresh ideas. There had been a tendency to appoint former judges and senior military officers to the vice-regal position.

General Jeffery said it had been a singular privilege and honour to serve the Australian people as the Queen's representative.

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The Age ~~ Melbourne ~~ Monday April 14 2008

A woman takes the keys to Yarralumla


From Ilfracombe, near Longreach, to Yarralumla: Quentin Bryce yesterday at the announcement held at the Australian National University in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

By Misha Schubert

THE woman chosen to become Australia's first female governor-general ­ ending a 107-year male stranglehold on the vice-regal post ­ hopes her rise from humble origins in a little bush town will serve as an inspiration for other women and girls.

Former sex discrimination commissioner Quentin Bryce, whose appointment yesterday was hailed by feminists and senior political figures as a watershed, said the breakthrough was a great moment for the nation's women.

"What this day says to Australian women and to Australian girls is that they can do anything, you can be anything, and it makes my heart sing to see women in so many diverse roles across our country," she said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the appointment only hours after his plane landed in Canberra from his marathon world tour, declaring it "a very good thing for all Australians and Australian women".

"I think it's obvious that we needed to have a governor-general for Australia who captures the spirit of modern Australia," he said.

Ms Bryce will cut short her recently extended term as Queensland Governor to replace Major-General Michael Jeffery on September 5.

Federal Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson welcomed the appointment, saying Ms Bryce "had demonstrated a strong commitment to the rights of women, indigenous Australians and the bush".

Mr Rudd telephoned Dr Nelson shortly before making the public announcement.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, who accommodated the federal appointment despite extending in January Ms Bryce's five-year term as state governor for another two years, applauded the choice of "an outstanding role model".

"She has been a passionate advocate for the rights of women and children to a better life and I can understand and applaud Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision to appoint her as the next governor-general," she said.

Ms Bryce, 65, was raised in the outback Queensland town of Ilfracombe and is married with five children and five grandchildren. A former lawyer, her past roles include inaugural director of Queensland's Women's Information Service, founding chairwoman of the National Childcare Accreditation Council and principal of the University of Sydney's Women's College.

Laughing off suggestions he had mounted a "pineapple coup" by installing Queenslanders as Prime Minister, Treasurer and now governor-general, Mr Rudd insisted Ms Bryce "intends to be a governor-general for all Australians".

But he signalled he was in no hurry to give up his own job to make way for the first female prime minister, despite having consulted his deputy, Julia Gillard, about the vice-regal choice. "It's going to take a little longer … I think our arrangements at present are great."

Major-General Jeffery wished Ms Bryce well and promised to continue to carry out his constitutional and public responsibilities with pride, dedication and energy in his remaining months in office.

Democrats spokeswoman on women Natasha Stott Despoja hailed the appointment of the first woman governor-general as a "herstoric day … both symbolic and substantial, sending a strong message that women can hold the highest positions in the land".

Greens leader Bob Brown described it as a great choice and "very 21st century", saying a female governor-general should have happened decades ago. He hoped the next appointment would be "of the people, by the people, of the first president".

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout, a friend of Ms Bryce, called it "an enlightened and terrific appointment", saying Ms Bryce would bring intelligence, integrity and a genuine interest in people to the post.

Former Victorian premier Joan Kirner described Ms Bryce as a founder of the feminist movement in Australia and "one of the most charming and intelligent women I've ever worked with".

"It means we are catching up with New Zealand," she said of the appointment. "All we have got to have now is a female chief justice and a female prime minister. It means, after 200 years we are finally beginning to reflect the diversity of Australia."

National co-convenor of Emily's List Australia Hutch Hussein said the appointment, along with Ms Gillard's rise to the deputy prime ministership, showed women they could achieve the highest levels of office.

Emily's List Australia is a national group which aims to increase the number of female Labor politicians in Parliament.

In appointing Ms Bryce as Queensland governor in 2003, then premier Peter Beattie praised Ms Bryce's "pioneering spirit".

But Ms Bryce's term as Queensland governor has not been without controversy. Her expenses bill has come under attack on several occasions and the decision to use Government House as the venue for her son's wedding in 2005 was widely criticised.

However, she has remained a highly respected figure during her term.

With AAP
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The Age ~~ Melbourne ~~ Monday April 14 2008

Perfect: Why Bryce is right

Michelle Grattan

QUENTIN Bryce's appointment is very right ­ and very Rudd. It is simultaneously progressive and conservative; pitched to please most people, and absolutely no risk. It's also another boost for the PM's home state of Queensland.

Kevin Rudd has met expectations that he would install the nation's first female governor-general. It's about time, and an important symbolic step. But in taking that step, he has opted for a woman who doesn't come on trainer wheels. As Queensland governor since 2003, Bryce has been fully road-tested for Yarralumla, and her legal background adds to her qualifications.

Contrast the rasher choice John Howard made when he selected as his first governor-general churchman Peter Hollingworth. That was controversial from the start and later turned into a disaster for the government and Hollingworth himself after the row about his past handling of church sex scandals forced him to resign.

Bryce's impressive career combines high achievement, commitment to human rights and the welfare of women and children, an inclusive style and a nice narrative of the outback girl who did it all. She has been a strong feminist throughout; from 1988 to 1993 she was federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Her main appointments have been from Labor governments; her politics are left of centre. But she was also on a key women's advisory committee in Malcolm Fraser's time. She has not worn her politics on her sleeve and Brendan Nelson was happy to endorse her when Rudd rang to tell him yesterday.

The governor-general is formally appointed by the Queen on the PM's recommendation; the two discussed Bryce's appointment at Windsor Castle a week ago. We don't know if they speculated about whether she might get a double spot in the history by being Australia's last governor-general as well.

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The Age ~~ Melbourne ~~ Monday April 14 2008

Her Excellency not of the caste of barons and earls


Kevin Rudd and the next governor-general, Quentin Bryce, in Canberra yesterday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Dewi Cooke

Had she been born an earl, a baron or a William, Australia's next governor-general would have brought to the role many of the same qualities as the men before her.

But in being born Quentin ­ not to mention a woman ­ she stands alone.

Six of the last century's 24 governors-general have been named William. Three have held the noble title of earl, and eight were barons. Seven have been knighted, and one was even a prince.

But it is not just her sex ­ or that she was born in the Queensland town of Longreach, far from the blue-blooded pedigrees of those who came before her ­ that places her apart.

Australia's first eight governors-general, like many Australians of the times, were born British citizens.

The link to the empire was strongest then, and the significance of the role represented the importance of the United Kingdom to the newly minted Federation of Australia.

Those early appointees invariably came from backgrounds of privilege within the British establishment.

The first, John Adrian Louis Hope, the seventh Earl of Hopetoun, was educated at the exclusive Eton school and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst (alma maters to the current princes of Australia, William and Harry).

Other Eton alumni who later became governors-general included Henry Northcote (Baron Northcote of Exeter), William Dudley (second Earl of Dudley), Sir Henry Forster and John Baird, while Thomas Denman and Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson both had their starts at Sandhurst.

Sir Isaac Isaacs was the first Australian-born governor-general, appointed in 1931.

He was followed by more men whose backgrounds usually included a stint in the military.

Ms Bryce, by contrast, attended Moreton Bay College, a private girls' school in Brisbane.

Two other governors-general were, like her, born in Queensland. In some respects, however, she shares a professional heritage with many of her male peers.

A former lawyer and barrister, her legal background connects her to the man many say she will be most like as governor-general: Sir William Deane. Other lawyers-cum-governors-general have included Sir Ninian Stephen, Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir John Kerr, although when Ms Bryce was admitted in 1965, women were a rarity at the Queensland bar.

Certainly, that was the case for women who, like her, were pregnant.

All the governors-general have been family men, and few have had broken marriages. But Ms Bryce, with five children, has perhaps had to juggle family and professional responsibilities more than others.

She kept away from politics, and has been praised for her ability to deal with politicians of all persuasions. But politics has been an easy training ground for governors-general past, with Lord Casey and Sir Paul Hasluck well-known in political circles at the times of their appointments.

Another governor-general, William De L'Isle, was appointed in 1961 after a stint in the House of Commons.
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The Sydney Morning Herald ~~ Monday April 14 2008

A feisty woman unafraid of entering the fray

Damien Murphy

THE elegant Quentin Bryce was known as Brisbane's best dresser when she flew to Canberra in 1982 to present her credentials to her new political masters.

She used to tell the story of waiting in King's Hall, dressed demurely in black dress and white collar, when the speaker of the House of Representatives, the late Sir Billy Snedden, spied her across the parquet and asked: "What are you, a choirgirl or something?"

Bryce explained politely that she was, in fact, the new convener of the the National Women's Advisory Council. "What's that?" Snedden asked.

The announcement yesterday by the Prime Minister that Bryce would become Australia's first female governor-general culminates a spectacular five-decade long career that marked her as a trailblazer, much of it in a Queensland noted as no country for women, old or young.

Sometimes, as Sir Billy proved, more southern parts of Australia were not much better country.

Many times since she became public property in the 1980s, Bryce seemed to have combined family and career seamlessly while somehow convincing both sides of whatever issue she was running on that she understood their positions exactly. In the world of bureaucracy, it is an enviable knack, especially when dealing with politicians.

Now 65, Bryce graduated in arts and law from the University of Queensland at 21 while pregnant with the first of her five children. In 1965, she became the first woman admitted to the Queensland bar. Later she became the first woman appointed to Queensland University's law faculty, where she lectured for 13 years.

In the 1970s she was attacked by campus feminists in the university magazine Semper Floreat: "How can Quentin Bryce be a feminist and wear lipstick?"

Her overt involvement with the women's movement began when she joined the National Women's Advisory Council in the 1970s. In 1984 she established the Women's Information Service in Brisbane under the umbrella of the federal Office of the Status of Women. Three years later she was appointed Queensland director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. In 1989 she became the sex discrimination commissioner on the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Although operating under federal powers, with the exception of the last appointment, the point about all these jobs was that Bryce took them on under the various manifestations of the governments of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a man who regarded sex discrimination as further proof that the rest of Australia had turned socialist.

However, the Queensland Liberal Party, a sometime Coalition partner with Bjelke-Petersen, made sure that, in Brisbane at least, such offices as those occupied by Bryce were welcome, even if they were funded by federal Labor.

Accordingly, many in Queensland in those days thought her heart lay with the Liberals. Her chic dress sense helped such impressions but in reality she was hard to pin down.

The late loquacious Jim Killen, a close friend of Bryce's, used to tell a story about her political affiliations that made both her and him look good.

One day Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser asked him about Bryce's politics. For God's sake, Jim, where does this woman stand? "I would say, Prime Minister, she has an inquiring mind," he replied.

From Country Party stock - Bryce's father, Norman Strachan, managed wool-scouring plants - she and her three sisters grew up in small towns scattered around central-west Queensland.

The young girls were packed off to board at Brisbane's Moreton Bay College, and Quentin was the school's first student to be accepted by the University of Queensland.

At university she reacquainted herself with an architecture student, Michael Bryce, whom she had first met as a nine-year-old. They started dating and married in 1964. They have two daughters, three sons and five grandchildren.

Sex discrimination was a "hot-button" issue when Bryce entered the fray, and many of her colleagues who fought with her in state offices around Australia were certainly different in style, if not substance. After nearly a decade at the coalface, Bryce bowed out after a strange brawl in which "Australia's commissioner for political correctness" was accused of sexist behaviour.

In 1990 Alexander Proudfoot, a doctor with the federal Health Department's Therapeutic Goods Administration, complained to the Human Rights Commission that women's health centres in the ACT operated in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Under freedom of information laws, Proudfoot had obtained a case file from Bryce on which she had written a note saying "another example of a male wasting our time with trivia".

Those 10 words grew into a mountain of legalese as the doctor pursued Bryce through the system. After four years and various hearings, the complaint was dismissed. The commissioner, Robert Nettlefold, QC, said Bryce's "unfortunate notation" was "an expression of frustration and annoyance".

Later it emerged she had become unhappy at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, partly because of the attitudes of male commissioners, but also because many people who had jumped on the new social issues of the 1970s were running out of puff and playing mind games with people like Bryce who were not in their club.

By 1993 she put it all behind her and moved on to a new "hot-button" issue, child care.

Bryce became chairman and chief executive of the National Childcare Accreditation Council, basically attempting to make sure child-care centres were up to scratch. She stayed for three years and left just as the Howard government arrived and opened the door big time to the privatisation of child care.

She had been flying between Sydney and Brisbane for years in her federal commissioner and child-care council roles, so her move to become principal and chief executive officer of the Women's College at the University of Sydney was seen as a natural fit.

In March 2003, Bryce was named by the Labor premier, Peter Beattie, as Governor of Queensland on the retirement of Major General Peter Arnison. Although he dressed it up as the will of Queensland's unicameral parliament, Beattie had cleared the vote with the National and Liberal leaders before he proposed the resolution.

Since her appointment as Governor, the media in Queensland has conducted a campaign against her, alleging the exodus of experienced staff and entertainment largesse among other alleged un-vice-regal behaviour, but Beattie defended her at every turn.

Clearly Bryce was in Queensland Labor's good books and now, having served her five-year apprenticeship she is ready for Yarralumla's kangaroos