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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 7495


Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/02/1989

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 7495

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
When in 1982 you, Sir Ninian, announced your decision to
retire from the bench in order to take up the
Governor-Generalship, I remember that many people in the
community expressed surprise, and not a little
disappointment, that Australia would no longer enjoy the
benefit of your wisdom in the law.
Many people seemed to think that the Governor-Generalship
was not a sufficiently substantial post for a man whose ten
years on the bench of the highest court in the land had been
years of outstanding service.
But the High Court's loss was very definitely the nation's
gain. Very few of Australia's Governors-General, and indeed, very
few of our Vice-Regal couples, have won such respect and
affection as have our distinguished guests of honour
Where many people had imagined the Governor-Generalship
could involve only the ritual performance of empty ceremony
and where some still saw it as the avenue of intrusion
into the affairs of elected Governments Sir Ninian Stephen
showed that the post could be very different indeed.
You, sir, showed the Governor-Generalship was a post of real
substance, and you imbued it and refreshed it with an
articulate, accessible, distinguished and may I say a very
Australian spirit.
So I am sure I speak for all Australians tonight when I say
that this nation owes a debt of gratitude to you for your
work over the past six and a half years.
The magnitude of the work is conveyed by these few

During his time in office, Sir Ninian presided over 275
meetings of the Federal Executive Council, involving some
5850 items of business. He appointed 40 Ministers and
signed into law 1120 pieces of legislation.
And he had to serve Prime Ministers of two different
political parties. In this respect of course I trust his
successor's task will be only half as arduous.
But these executive duties have not, I think, been the most
gruelling part of the Governor-General's routine nor have
they been, in other than a formal constitutional sense, the
most significant part of Sir Ninian's success.
In a recent newspaper interview, Sir Ninian said he saw his
job as Governor-General as being " to represent the
Australian nation to the people of Australia".
It's a seductively simple-sounding formula which in fact
presents a challenging, important and very appropriate role
for the Head of State as we enter the 1990s and approach the
centenary of Federation.
And how well both of you, Sir Ninian and Lady Stephen, have
fulfilled this role.
If Governors-General are effectively to represent the nation
to its people, it is vital that they be seen by the people
by all the people, in all parts of this country, separated
as we are by vast distances.
In the hectic Bicentennial year alone, Sir Ninian and Lady
Stephen hosted a total of 510 receptions, dinners, lunches
and other gatherings at Yarralumla and Admiralty House. In
addition, they attended 146 functions in Canberra and 254
elsewhere, and made well in excess of 200 speeches.
For the past six and a half years Australians have seen, and
come to respect and enjoy, the personal qualities which
Sir Ninian and Lady Stephen brought to the task.
Whether at Australia Day 1988 on Sydney Harbour or at the
Fruit Festival at Cobar, here in the national capital or in
a country town hall, they have conducted themselves with
dignity, a generous and genuine interest in all they have
met, and a clear concern for the Australian nation.
In Canberra itself, Government House has been a warm and a
homely place. Visitors to Yarralumla be they young Scouts
and Guides on their first visit to Canberra, foreign Heads
of State, people attending the recitals of Australian music
and verse were charmed by a couple whom they found
friendly, interested and approachable.

I might add and it is, as you will see, quite relevant to
this evening's proceedings that I do so that I
particularly commend the Australian style you have brought
to the interiors of Yarralumla and Admiralty House with the
superb selection of Aboriginal art that now adorns these
buildings. Throughout your time in office, Sir Ninian, you have
outlined your vision of a dynamic and vibrant Australia; an
Australia unified by common ideals and a common commitment
to the future; an Australia which, on that common ground,
gains strength from the toleration, indeed the
encouragement, of diversity.
I salute you for your clear-sighted advocacy of the
importance of building a multicultural nation most
recently manifested in your call for Australians to maintain
the linguistic diversity which is part of our rich
* inheritance of immigration.
Neither of us wishes to see an Australia which is insular
and backward-looking; an Australia impervious to new ideas;
an Australia which refuses to adapt to changing
circumstances. Your role in ensuring that historic
transformation takes place has been a crucial one.
Let me say that tonight's dinner has a special significance
for me, not only because as Prime Minister I know and
appreciate the way in which the Governor-General has
conducted the formal aspects of his office, but also because
of the close personal relationship which we have enjoyed
over the past six years.
When you became Governor-General in 1982, you, like your
predecessor, Sir Zelman Cowan, faced the difficult task of
healing the wounds created by the events of 1975. Those
wounds were slow to heal, and it is a great tribute to you
and to Sir Zelman that you were able to bring reassurance to
9 many of those who had begun to distrust the office of
But I believe that you have succeeded in doing much more
than that. When on Thursday Bill Hayden is sworn in as
Governor-General, he will be receiving an office which has
been revitalised; an office to which you have given fresh
direction, and which, in the process, has acquired new
meaning and importance in the eyes of many Australians.
Sir Ninian, I have concentrated most of my remarks this
evening on you. But may I make it clear that just as in
your work you have been strengthened by the support,
encouragement and contagious enthusiasm of your wife, so in
thanking you for your period in office the Australian people
also thank Lady Stephen.
Let me say to both of you it has always been easy to refer
to you in the formal fashion as " Excellencies". You have
indeed brought excellence to the performance of your task.

We wish both of you well in your retirement. I am delighted
that you Sir Ninian will be passing on some of your wisdom
to the students of the Law Faculty at Melbourne University.
I now call upon the Leader of the Opposition to support my
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Transcript 7495