THE FRONT DORE: Why Samantha Mostyn is a perfect governor-general despite what some like Janet Albrechtsen say

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Christopher Dore
The Nightly
7 Min Read
THE FRONT DORE: Samantha Mostyn will be a great governor-general, writes Christopher Dore.
THE FRONT DORE: Samantha Mostyn will be a great governor-general, writes Christopher Dore. Credit: The Nightly

Sam Mostyn is a sensational choice as the next governor-general, our 28th. Improbable, yes. Imperfect, possibly. But Mostyn will be a truly modern viceroy, perfect for the Albanese era.

She will be the youngest, easily the most connected, possibly the most interesting and hopefully the most colourful character to have ever graced the lawns of Yarralumla.

She will definitely throw the best parties.

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And isn’t that the point of the governor-general?

Of course Mostyn is a shamelessly political appointment, a clearly partisan person, a deep state Labor staffer, with strong views rooted in the socialist left of politics.

She has spent much of her professional life fighting for gender equality, Indigenous rights and believes in strong action on climate change. She voted for Albanese and campaigned for a Yes vote in the Voice referendum. She was pretty disgusted with the outcome. Untethered, she said. We let her down. She thought we were better than that but Australians didn’t get it.

Some might think that such attitude makes her misguided, in a minority, a long way removed from middle Australia and as such entirely unsuited to be our de facto head of state.

But she’s hardly alone among elites.

And of course the Prime Minister, his Cabinet, the entire Government, and every single State Government are also in that category. On this issue, every single politician actually running the country is at odds with the majority of voters. Awkward.

Anthony Albanese could have gone on the hunt for the impossible, an entirely impartial and apolitical candidate. A boring and battle-weary general or an unknown and dispassionate chief justice.

He needed a woman. With such a historical gender imbalance, what prime minister would even contemplate selecting a man?

And the only obviously qualified woman from the traditional fields of selection is the recently retired High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel.

Kiefel, a conservative “black letter law” judge, appointed to high office by the Coalition, is not Albanese’s people.

Given the little matter of the governor-general’s not inconsiderable constitutional responsibilities, it’s understandable why prime ministers often play it safe with one of those High Court types, or a military man.

Under section 68 of the Constitution, Mostyn will technically be the commander in chief of Australia’s military. And she does have a set of reserve powers, including oh, you know, the power to dismiss a prime minister, or to pick one when parliament can’t, that can make life a little testy on the odd sensitive legal constitutional issue.

But surely she can call a friend.

So Albanese, his Voice vanquished, is within his rights to cast aside those traditional safe scenarios, and opt for a bit of vice regal razzle-dazzle. Do we genuinely believe the old-school pool of characters from which a governor-general is picked is actually impartial or apolitical anyway? Or do they simply keep their views to themselves? Surely it’s better to know where our public figures stand.

On that point, it’s probably not ideal that Mostyn felt the need to delete her X profile and bury those colourful old tweets. Out of context, surely. #BlackLivesMatter made sense at the time, right.

It’s unlikely any of our previous heads of state had to issue kill orders on their past pronouncements. It’s a shame for Peter Hollingworth that he didn’t. Hollingworth, a priest, was the last governor-general who didn’t come from central casting. John Howard thought he was being clever. Hollingworth’s past as the former Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, his wayward use of words caught up with him and cut short his precious time on the Queen’s speed dial.

Sam Mostyn, president of women’s leadership advocacy group Chief Executive Women Inc., in Sydney, Australia, on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Some Australian executives have used the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to avoid promoting women to top roles, Mostyn says, arguing that women present a "risk" in uncertain times. Photographer: Lisa Maree Williams/Bloomberg
Sam Mostyn may not have the credentials to keep everyone happy, but she certainly has enough. Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Bloomberg

Mostyn won’t be the first to have an opinion, we can only hope she continues to express it, in a unifying way and in keeping with the description of her by Magda Szubanski, one of her large and adoring gang of supporters: “Sam Mostyn is one of THE most decent, kind, sane, intelligent humans on the planet and is a brilliant choice.’’ Get back on X, Your Excellency, for more of the same.

In a kinder era, not so long ago, Sir William Deane, one of our most loved, admired and respected governors-general was a prominent campaigner for Indigenous causes. And he won universal praise for being so. Before taking the role he was a progressive activist High Court justice. One of the Mabo majority who re-wrote Australian history from the bench, dispensing once and for all of the concept of terra nullius.

Sir William had legal expertise and credentials. Gravitas and authority. Mostyn, likewise in a different way, in a different environment, has presence and authority too.

Since the announcement, some have chosen to question Mostyn’s business credentials.

“Mostyn is no business heavyweight,” Janet Albrechtsen thundered with “no track record running an actual business or taking P&L responsibility”. Nothing but a clueless corporate “quota queen” who has led a jobs for girls movement and benefited from the “golden skirts club” at the forefront of promoting boardroom diversity and inclusion.

Imagine applying the profit and loss statement test to every politician ever to be named treasurer or finance minister.

None of them, not one in the past 50 years could legitimately claim to be qualified. Paul Keating dropped out of school, Wayne Swan and Jim Chalmers have arts degrees. Sure, as Labor MPs they could certainly count. Peter Costello, Joe Hockey, Josh Frydenberg, all lawyers. All wanted to be prime minister. None of them could count.

Each of them however, despite having no previous experience, had highlights as treasurer.

Unlike just about every government minister in history, either from the Coalition parties or from Labor, Mostyn has vast and varied corporate, charitable and community experience. It’s undeniable.

However people think she got into the room, she has over a long period of time served on diverse boards. A front row seat on massive companies running toll roads, and banks, airlines, super funds, construction. She has held directorships on big arts and theatre boards.

And she was a powerhouse ambitious, positive, activist figure in the toughest of arenas, the national code’s governing body, the AFL Commission. Mostyn trained as a solicitor, and worked in executive roles with an insurance company and at a telco. She was an adviser to prime minister Paul Keating, and two ministers.

Not remotely qualified for high office then.

Her only legitimate black mark, according to critics, is her politics. But who cares. Maybe Albanese should have recruited her to his Cabinet; she’s wasted at Government House.

If only we had more prime ministers, premiers, State and Federal ministers with half her list of problems.

Activist, networker, republican. Mostyn is now the King’s woman in Canberra. She makes sense even if the vice regal post itself doesn’t.

In reality, the office of the governor-general means almost nothing. Its incumbent can do some good, and virtually no harm.

Might as well have someone in there with a bit of spunk and something to say.

And we should be grateful Albanese doesn’t have any gaps to fill on the High Court.

EVERYONE IS A VIP TO SOMEONE

Chris Bowen’s justification for the grotesque and obscene use of taxpayer dollars to fly two plane loads of oh so important ministers and staffers to the Hunter Valley for a renewable energy publicity event, one that barely gets any coverage or publicity, and is only televised in full on Sky News, was simple enough.

“As you can imagine,” the Minister for Big Ambitions and Diminishing Returns calmly began, “a prime ministerial visit (with) two Cabinet ministers …” is a big deal, tricky to organise. We were all in Canberra. We all needed to be in Muswellbrook for this. It was massive. Solar panels. Climate. Renewables. This is big. We had big bucks to give away. $1 billion in fact. One. billion. Of your hard earned dollars. What we want to do, you see, is give this money to companies to “super charge Australia’s ambition to become a renewable energy super power”. Your money in good hands. Saving the planet.

A couple of planes from Canberra for a couple of hours isn’t much to ask. Surely.

And give us some credit too. We didn’t take everyone.

Only the most important, the need-to-be-theres.

Staff. Well maybe the photographer, and the social media peeps you stay back. Hang on you better come. Policy advisers. Stay. Keep your phones on in case we can’t answer all the questions.

OK bare minimum to travel, so we don’t have to take a third plane hey. Two RAAF jets for VIPs only. We can do this.

One of those VIPs who just had to be there for the big day was Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic, one of Bowen’s buddies.

Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen and Ed Husic were flown to Muswellbrook in two RAAF planes for a clean energy announcement.
Anthony Albanese, Chris Bowen and Ed Husic were flown to Muswellbrook in two RAAF planes for a clean energy announcement. Credit: Instagram

Cut to the big press conference. They’re all there. Ed in the back nodding away as the cameras roll and the big man local member Dan Repacholi takes the mic. Then the AGL boss, then the CEO of Sundrive Solar, the PM, Bowen, hang on who is this, oh, Courtney Houssos, the NSW manufacturing minister. And this? OK, NSW Climate Minister Penny Sharpe. How good is $1 billion. Dollars.

OK, Ed? Ed? We flew you up here mate, anything?

I’m in the press release, mate. The best 32 words you will ever read. And I’ve lined up three pictures on Instagram. One even has me in it, on the side there, with the PM (75 likes, one from super supportive sister Sabina).

Ed Husic’s contribution to the media event, the one-two expensive emissions-intensive VIP planes were fully fuelled up and used to get him there?

Net zero.

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