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Australia's activist Governor-General

Zak Kirkup -

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced that King Charles had approved the appointment of Samantha Mostyn AO, as our country's next Governor-General.

The announcement received mostly positive responses from commentators and community leaders, as it became clear that the country's 28th Governor-General would be unlike any that came before her, particularly on Indigenous issues.

The role of the Governor-General is a largely ceremonial one, tasked to act as Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Force and to be the Sovereign's representative in Australia. Of the 27 who have served in the role so far, the vast majority have been ex-politicians, former judicial officers or members of the defence force. Just one female has served in the role.

Ms Mostyn is a businesswoman who has achieved success in her own right. In 2021 she was awarded an Order of Australia for distinguished service to business, sustainability and the community and was founding member and chair of the women's climate action group 1 Million Women. She has been a commissioner of the AFL, played a significant role in the development of AFLW and, in yet another first for a Governor-General, was a board member of Reconciliation Australia from 2007-2010.

For a role that is meant to be apolitical and non-controversial, our newest Governor-General-designate has also been one of - if not the - most outspoken activists appointed to the role when it comes to Indigenous issues.

In 2020 Ms Mostyn called 26 January 'Invasion Day' in a now-deleted tweet:

Then in December 2023 on a podcast hosted by former labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Ms Mostyn went much further about Australia's history, particularly in the context of the failed Voice to Parliament referendum:

"I'm horrified to think about what I thought Australia was growing up with the Captain Cook story and no mention of First Peoples or Frontier Wars,"

"... the older population still don't fully recognise that history, and somehow consign that to 'wokedom' or a revisiting of history rather than a truth-telling exercise."

In that same podcast, Ms Mostyn she said was concerned about how Indigenous people felt after the Voice referendum, saying the result:

".. makes me worry about the mental health issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities who have spent their lives trying to address those issues.. to discover that had not happened (after the Voice result) and actually there's so much work still to happen, must just be completely devastating."

In the lead-up to the announcement this week, there were persistent rumours that an Indigenous person might be appointed in the role. Such a step would have been monumental for our country, particularly as the nation looks to navigate a new path of reconciliation post-Voice.

Instead, the Prime Minister chose to recommend to the King, someone who is not Indigenous but considered the issues confronting Indigenous Australia very much in her 'top three' focus.

Choosing a proven advocate deeply engaged with Indigenous issues but not Indigenous herself, over a potential Indigenous appointee, suggests to me the Prime Minister has once navigated a cautious step towards addressing Australia's colonial history within the confines of our constitutional monarchy, without fully embracing the significant change that appointing an Indigenous Governor-General would represent.

As a constitutional monarchist myself, I am unsure whether such an activist appointment is what our country needs to maintain a system of government which is stable and certain - in no small part due to the role of our Govenror-General.

Time will tell just how significant an impact Ms Mostyn will have in the role she herself considered to be "one of no greater purpose.. than to serve the country I love".

Zak Kirkup, of Yamatji heritage, is a former leader of the WA Liberal Party and one of the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the construction services sector.

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