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Sunday Agenda -

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Sunday Agenda


Major General Michael Jeffery

31 August 2008

Interview with Michael Jeffery

Sunday Agenda program, 31 August 2008

Kieran Gilbert: Your Excellency, thanks for your time. You referred to Australia as a nation of
excellence, the global example, in your farewell speech in the Great Hall of Parliament. Can you
elaborate on that for us?

Michael Jeffery: Well, what I was referring to is my aspiration for Australia, and I think if we go
to compete with the huge populations and economies of India, and China in particular, that we've
got to be a nation of excellence in everything we do; whether we're mums and dads; whether we're
tradesmen; whether we're scientists; soldiers; padres; news reporters, to try to be the best at
everything that we do. And in trying to be the best we will be the best in many, many things. And
if we are the best, then other people will want to come and trade with us. They'll want to send
their kids to our universities and we will always be competitive. Because we're only 21 million
people. And when you look at India and China they're producing now literally hundreds of thousands
of scientists and engineers and so on, every year. So if we're going to stay on top and being able
to trade competitively, if we're going to be able to operate with these countries and retain their
respect and linkages with us, then we've got to be up there with them and better than them in an
intellectual sense.

Kieran Gilbert: And as the example, what are you thinking in terms of Australia leading the way by

Michael Jeffery: Well, I think in the technical sense if we could lead the way in agricultural
research, in water and environment, in how we use energy, the renewables; in a social condition
sense, how we treat one another and our families. In a governance sense, by having very strong
parliamentary institutions and law, public service, defence force all operating cohesively and
operating within the rule of law; honest, hard working, that sort of thing.

Kieran Gilbert: What about, did the way we deal with some of the major issues of our time? Again
you referred to this in your farewell speech, the issue of climate change and dealing with that?

Michael Jeffery: Well, I think we are now starting to deal with it because I think the public are
demanding that our parliamentarians deal with it, and I think that's right and proper. There is a
great concern that out there things are getting worse in the context of pollution of the
atmosphere, changing weather patterns, however that's caused, and the public wants to see policies
et cetera that deal with those issues. And that's why we're doing so much research in respect for
example in the renewable energy; solar, ultra-clean coal technologies, re-looking at the nuclear
issue and so on. And so I think that's very, very important. And we've got some of the best
scientist research people in the world. And when I go and travel the world and I talk with leaders
like Hu Jintao, or President Bush, or President Putin, I urge them with us to come together getting
our best brains to deal with these things on a multilateral basis to see whether we can come up
with solutions that are going to benefit the whole world.

Kieran Gilbert: On some of the broader issues, and your broader ideas and values, you've often
argued the need for Australians to volunteer, to have a sense of social service. How important is
it to the fabric of our country that Australians do do that?

Michael Jeffery: Well, I think the first priority is to look after our families, and I talk about
cohesive families and perhaps we can talk about that in a minute. But the next stage, I think once
you've looked after your family is then to look after your neighbour, your street, the city, the
State, the country. And the best way of doing that I think is by volunteering; going out and doing
something, you know Meals on Wheels, Red Cross, running the local scout group or cadet unit or the
footy team, whatever. And we're pretty good at it because we've got pretty close to five million
Australians now giving somewhere around about three to three and a half hours a week in doing just
that, volunteering. It's a magnificent effort but we can't rest on our laurels. Every charitable
organisation tells me they could still do with more volunteers and I like to try and help them to
achieve that.

Kieran Gilbert: One area where Australia hasn't done the best by its fellow citizens is, of course,
with our own indigenous people. How far do you think we've come and how far do we have to go in our
relations with our Indigenous Australians?

Michael Jeffery: Well I think we've got to be very careful here. I mean we've probably got about
520,000 people with Indigenous blood in this country. And I suspect that about 350, 400,000 of
those are already integrated satisfactorily into the country, integrated to such an extent that you
don't hear about it. They're doing what we would look upon as normal jobs and living normal
Australian lives. There are however 100,000 or so, I guess mostly in the northern half of
Australia, mostly living in remote communities. Not all of them, but a lot living in remote
communities who have been doing it hard for many years and probably because we haven't found the
right solutions. But now I think we are, and I think it's Indigenous people themselves, leaders
like Noel Pearson and Young Australian of the Year, Tania Major, who are standing up and saying
hey, we Indigenous people have got to learn to deal with things ourselves, to take responsibility
for getting our kids educated and looking after our places and joining the mainstream of Australian
life. That I think is starting to happen but it's still going to take a long time to achieve. And
with that I think you've got to look at all the other aspects of housing, education, job provision
and so on. But it's right up there now firmly again in the public mind and I think our
parliamentarians are well aware of that as are the Indigenous community.

Kieran Gilbert: You've travelled the length and breadth of this country over the last five years.
You've got a good sense of what this place is about of course. What is the biggest challenge that
Australia faces into the future in your view?

Michael Jeffery: It's a hard one. I mean the changing climate is certainly having an impact. I mean
on the environment, the Murray Darling, the stressing of some of our farming areas. I think
stressing in our cities, Sydney and Melbourne, the big ones, where people want to come and live in
the big cities and so on. And I've spoken for many years about let's start getting people
interested in the north, because that's where our water is, that's where our energy is, that's
where our minerals are and that's where our space is. But what we've got to do is make it
attractive for people to live in the north; whether they're going to farmers, if the soil's right;
whether we produce manufacturing or processing industries. All those things need to be considered
if we're going to encourage young people to leave the comforts of Sydney and the beaches and so on
and live in the north. But I think it can be done. And if governments and industry and academia get
together, you've got the right incentives, you build good schools and hospitals and infrastructure
in remote communities, mining communities and so on, then I think we'll achieve that.

Kieran Gilbert: As you look back at the five years that you've been Governor-General what's the
most rewarding element of the job, and what's your proudest achievement?

Michael Jeffery: Well, that's a hard one. There are so many. I mean I've found virtually every
aspect of this job, constitutional, ceremonial, community, rewarding. But I guess it's being out
there in the more remote areas and seeing the innovations, seeing how our farmers still produce
under very difficult circumstances, competing with the rest of the world without any subsidy,
innovating, innovating all the time; very seldom complaining when the conditions get very tough.
And then you go to a flood area and you see families who've lost everything but they're not in
their own house fixing it up, they're down in the neighbour's place because they reckon their
neighbour is just a little bit worse off. And they're doing it with good cheer. And they're not
sitting down depressed and miserable. It's this Australian attitude: all right, let's knock this
over this time, we're going to pick ourselves up and get on with it. And that's what we do and it
makes this country a great one. And then you go overseas and I mean how do you beat an ANZAC Day in
Afghanistan with my old regiment, the SAS out there in the desert and the desert sun coming over
the boys and the sentries and the flag being raised, and fine young men doing their job for their
country thousands of miles away and proud of what they do? So many stories to tell in that respect.

Kieran Gilbert: On that issue of Afghanistan, you were, of course, a commanding officer of the SAS.
You observed these theatres, our deployments very closely. Are you optimistic about the role in
Afghanistan in that there might be a victory at some stage?

Michael Jeffery: Well, I think it's going to be very difficult. I mean I'll only make a general
observation. I think the first essential thing for Afghanistan, and it's not just for Australia,
but it's the whole of the coalition with the Afghani Government, and that is to really decide what
their aim or intention is. Is it to beat the Taliban? Is it to deal with the poppy question? Is it
to support the Karzai government and so on? Because without a clear aim then it's hard to get the
right strategy. But that's all being dealt with now I think by the governments, they're working
towards that. But it will be a hard struggle because Afghanistan has always been a difficult
country. The British found that out very early on. The Russian found it out. And we're finding it
out, too. But it's a worthwhile cause and if we can help the Afghanis achieve some degree of
democracy, and I mean it in an Afghani sense. If women can be educated, kids can go to school,
hospitals can be built, people can have a vote, if we can deal with the poppy question, they would
be good things to achieve.

[excerpt of speech by Governor-General Michael Jeffery:

"And I leave confident in the knowledge that the Australian Defence Force, and indeed the defence
of our nation is in excellent hands."]

Kieran Gilbert: This week marks the end of more than 50 years, 54 years of public service from
yourself to Australia. Do you see your role as Governor-General in the last five years as bringing
the role back to a bit of an even keel after what was a fairly controversial term by your

Michael Jeffery: Well, they were difficult circumstances and we all realise that, and I've been on
public record frequently saying how saddened I was for Dr Hollingworth and his wife. The issues of
course were complex. Things happen. It was a very difficult time. But I like to think that Marlene
and I in trying to do our best to fulfil the role with the dignity, dedication and integrity, well,
we certainly tried to do it that way and it's up to the public, of course, to make their judgments.
But I feel comfortable in my own skin that the Ship of State has stayed on course and people are
very nice to us wherever we go in the streets. Ordinary citizen, ex-soldiers, or somebody doing the
tents out here for a function, they come up and say: "It's good to see you and you've done a great
job." And that to me is the best accolade of all.

Kieran Gilbert: And that's your biggest achievement in your view that it's back on an even keel?

Michael Jeffery: Well, I like to think that is. I'm proud too of I think things that we've been
able to do behind the scenes; suggestions that we've been able to make to ministers and prime
ministers about what they might like to look at, or do something about. And I don't talk about
those things because that's because they're things that you suggest privately. But I'm always
delighted if in giving a suggestion it is acted upon. You feel: "Well, yes I've been able to do a
little bit extra." And I'm very happy too with the constitutional arrangements. I thought this last
election, the dignity with which the transfer of power took place and to see former Prime Minister
Howard and Janette and Prime Minister Rudd and Therese, sitting in the Lodge having a cup of tea
and handing over the keys. I thought that said it all. No, very few other countries have a system
that works like ours.

Kieran Gilbert: And to your successor, well, of course, is going to be the first female
Governor-General. Were you pleased to see that development?

Michael Jeffery: Well, I'm absolutely delighted that Ms Bryce is assuming office. I know her and
her husband Michael pretty well. She's a charming, articulate and highly motivated lady and she
will do an outstanding job for the country. The fact that she is a woman I think is an added bonus.
But I'm never one for too much men or women. I think it's the best person for the job and equal
opportunities. But to have our first female Governor-General is going to be a wonderful thing for
the country.

Kieran Gilbert: There's been a lot of speculation from all sorts of people that she could be our
last Governor-General. What do you think, do you think that that's possible? Is a Republic
inevitable in your view?

Michael Jeffery: Well I've never spoken specifically on that. I think what I've tried to say over
many years now is that we should never be frightened of looking at better ways of governing
ourselves. Now this is not talking about a Republic or the Constitutional Monarchy or anything
else. Better ways of governing ourselves right through the whole spectrum. But to look at better
ways of governing ourselves you've got to have a very good understanding of how your current system
works, you know what are its strengths and weaknesses, otherwise how do you make judgments on
change? And that applies to the Republic as it does to numbers of tiers of government and so on.
And I've always urged that by all means all of us talk about what we think is the best thing, but
let's talk about it from a basis of knowledge. And that's where the teaching of civics is very
important. That's where kids coming through to places like this in the parliament, or play acting
roles as premiers and leaders of the Opposition and so on. It's very important for our younger
generation to understand where they've come from so that they can make better judgments about where
they want to go.

Kieran Gilbert: And just finally, Your Excellency, you were born in Wiluna, outback WA. It's been
quite a journey, hasn't it, over the last 50 years?

Michael Jeffery: Well again I say it to lots and lots of children when I ask them: "What's your
name?" "Henry." "What's yours?" "Mary." "Abdullah." "Well, Henry, Mary, Abdullah, do you realise
that in a few years time when you're a little bit older you could be in this place as our
Governor-General?" And I said when I was born in Wiluna and right up until the time I was appointed
to the office I had no idea that it would happen to me. But it happened to a little young bloke out
in the back in the middle of the desert in Wiluna, his dad a miner, his mum a nursing sister and
that's the beauty of this country, it provides that opportunity.

Kieran Gilbert: General Jeffery, thanks for your time and all the best.

Michael Jeffery: Thank you.