Saturday, 25 November 2006

Who Is This Man?Author Kate Legge's story on pp. 20 - 25 of this weekend's issue of The Weekend Australian Magazine answers a lot of questions about the low recognition factor plaguing the governor-general of Australia. The Queen's representative, and the man who signs bills into law, has taken a back seat in the running of the country. Whereas the prime minister, John Howard, injects issues into all sorts of national debates, Jeffries' "social conservatism and hyper-caution" leave him with fewer outlets for his energies.

"Imagination is a huge issue," says a former state governor familiar with the trials of constitutional office. "You have to imagine yourself into these positions. There is an element of magic in the way you inspire people."

Only two per cent of Australians can recall his name, it appears. But Michael Jeffries, who is endeavouring to "steady things down" after the debacle with Peter Hollingworth, his predecessor in the vice-regal role, refuses to "be up there competing with PMs and ministers."

"The intention is not for self-aggrandisement; the intention is to show the Australian people that their G-G is out there doing a job of worth."

But that won't cut it with the media, and Jeffries thinks it's the media who have the problem.

"I think there is a media responsibility to report periodically what the Governor-General is doing ... that's where I get disappointed. There isn't the depth of examination, except if you make a mistake. Trip over something — wrong word, wrong phrase — bang, you're gone. We've had very, very little coverage, which I find amazing, quite frankly."

These frustrated people always blame the media. It's a constant refrain. Anything you don't like in the way of publicity and it's the media's fault. This kind of knee-jerk reaction doesn't reflect well on a man who wants to improve his public profile. It makes him look small and bitter. Hardly the kind of image you'd want to encourage. But Jeffries has nothing better to say. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wants to be low-profile so he doesn't upstage the real powers in the land, but he wants his "'Honesty. Integrity.'" to be spread across the broadsheets and the tabloids.

As if. But I think, at least, that Legge does a good job in this profile.

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