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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26054

Senator BARNETT (7:46 PM) —I rise tonight to take exception to the statement by former Tasmanian Governor Richard Butler that he was standing down from the office of governor because of what he called a `malicious campaign' against him which was damaging Tasmania's good name. In my view, the obvious flaw in that statement is the absurd suggestion by Mr Butler that there was a so-called `malicious campaign' that was somehow the arch-villain in this whole unfortunate constitutional soap opera which has damaged the state's reputation, rather than any of Mr Butler's actions and statements. There was no malicious campaign that wrought its evil upon the Butlers and Tasmania. There was only one source of damage to our state's good name—Richard Butler.

I must say that I was surprised by Jim Bacon's appointment of Mr Butler last year, but like the vast majority of Tasmanians I was prepared to wait and see whether the Bacon experiment would succeed, because if it did succeed Tasmania would be a better place for it. Sadly, it failed. The reason why is not hard to see: in the early days Mr Butler could not help himself and continued his tirades against the United States and the Howard government. He used speeches in Tasmania to attack the Howard government on a range of domestic and international policy issues—namely, health, education, refugees and the war in Iraq. He started his vice-regal career as a divisive influence in Tasmania, which is an anathema to the vice-regal tradition of a unifying force and a symbol of cohesion and understanding. In this regard I commend and acknowledge the fine and outstanding work of Sir Guy Green, the governor immediately prior to Richard Butler, General Sir Phillip Bennett and indeed so many other governors before them who distinguished themselves in so many ways and who united the people and the state of Tasmania over so many years.

Former Governor Butler had to be disciplined by the new Premier, Paul Lennon, as a result of his statements. Paul Lennon publicly stated that he expected Mr Butler to cease making political comments. Mr Lennon said that he expected this request to be `strictly adhered to'. The Premier's statement is ample evidence that Mr Butler transgressed convention and tradition in his statements and in his Australia Day address this year. If this were simply a case of ill-conceived political statements having been made early in the piece, Mr Butler would still be the Queen's vice-regal representative in Tasmania tonight. But Mr Butler's controversial statements were followed by behaviour as governor that most Australians would find both embarrassing and unbecoming of his office, this solemn cornerstone of our constitutional democracy in Tasmania.

The media have adequately covered these incidences in today's reporting of Mr Butler's resignation and in recent days. For the record, I would like to detail some of them here. Let me say at the outset that the appointment was of an outspoken and ardent republican, a very political high-profile identity in Labor politics, a person who was an adviser to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and a person who was paid the highest vice-regal salary in Australia—even higher than Australia's Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery—yet this occurred in the smallest state in Australia. The state government and Premier Lennon have to respond to the dilemma of how this came about. Basically, the fact that our state governor was the highest paid in Australia, higher than our Governor-General, was never going to sit well with Tasmanians, or indeed with Australians generally. Mr Butler was sworn in on 2 October last year. Two days later Mr Butler married Jennifer Gray. They took three weeks leave in advance. In October the Butlers went to Singapore and other parts of Asia on their honeymoon. The email reports subsequently quoted in various media showed that Mr Butler had demanded to be upgraded on Singapore Airlines because of his position as governor, despite the fact he had only paid for an economy class air fare.

In November, Mr Butler failed to wear the traditional poppy on Remembrance Day and received the appropriate expressions of concern from the RSL and other parts of the community. He used a speech on Australia Day to launch a thinly veiled attack on the Howard government on refugee and Indigenous issues, health and social welfare policy, education policy and the war on Iraq. He branded the United States as the most `highly nationalistic' and `self-centred' government we have known. He cancelled a commitment to open National Trust Heritage Month in Launceston, citing an `urgent matter' he had to attend to and was seen attending a recital by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Hobart.

In May, according to the Australian newspaper, he breached protocol at the Danish wedding of Tasmanian Mary Donaldson to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark by starting his meal before the Danish Queen had arrived. The May budget in Tasmania showed a huge increase in the cost of running Government House. This was a budget prepared by the state Labor government and it included a 70 per cent increase in supplies and consumables, according to the Hobart Mercury.

In June this year he claimed that there was a campaign to bring him down—an extraordinary claim under the circumstances, notwithstanding all the views and concerns expressed by the Premier of Tasmania in terms of gagging him and the community's response to his actions. In July Mr Butler broke with tradition and did not speak at the Vietnam Veterans Day commemorative service. I would suggest that this antiwar statement was akin to the behaviour of a teenage peace activist. One would be hard pressed to find a Vietnam veteran anywhere who is a warmonger.

Then we had the resignations of Government House senior staff: the honorary police aide-de-camp Sydney McClymont, after 17 years in the role; official secretary John Chilcott, who is widely respected by all sides of politics; senior adviser Anne Parker; and military aide-de-camp Chris Beattie. The so-called `malicious campaign' against Richard Butler was in effect his own excuse for his inappropriateness as Governor of Tasmania. He could have been a great ambassador for Tasmania, or at least attempted to be so, but for whatever reason, whether it be boredom, pride, an imperious ego or contempt for all those around him, Mr Butler executed and then hastened his own downfall.

Even when speaking to me at a Launceston Chamber of Commerce function, following a question I asked as to whether he supported the free trade agreement, in a group meeting with other members of the chamber, in regard to the Howard government's response to the free trade agreement, he said, `You bastards did nothing for us in Tasmania.' I subsequently wrote to the Premier about that particular comment by Governor Butler and still have not received a response. The editorial in today's Australian newspaper states:

RICHARD Butler lasted just 10 months as governor of Tasmania before his resignation last night. It is an extraordinary end to a turbulent tenure, brought about by his inability to adjust to the job.

... ... ...

He offended community groups. An analysis of the vice-regal diary by Hobart's daily newspaper The Mercury demonstrated that Mr Butler was hosting 70 per cent fewer functions at Government House and only undertaking half of the public engagements in the city of his predecessor, Sir Guy Green. He was also exceedingly well paid for what he did, earning $370,000 a year—more than the Governor-General. And he had trouble hanging on to help—three senior staff walked out of Government House last week. And then there were suggestions Mr Butler was exuberant in enjoying himself.

I conclude by saying that it reveals a state Labor government clearly out of touch with the thinking and values of ordinary Tasmanians. Today the Lennon government announced a $650,000-odd payout to Mr Butler after just 10 months in the job.

Senator Ian Macdonald —You're kidding!

Senator BARNETT —I am not kidding. That is the fact. That money could be used to benefit our health system, education, roads and so on. It reveals a Labor government which is out of touch. (Time expired)