It really depends on how you interpret our constitution.
Either our first female head of state was sworn in on Thursday, or our second. Or someone else, who just happens to be the first female to hold that role.
In any event, Ms Quentin Bryce succeeds Major-General Michael Jeffery as our new Governor-General, becoming the 25th Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia in the process, and the first female to hold the post.
The former Governor of Queensland is possibly also the first Governor-General to only be entitled to one style or title at the start of her name, not including the "Her Excellency" that she gets by virtue of being the GG. Which she also would have got for being Governor of Queensland as well. This blogger notes that the previous 5 GGs had the following styles and titles (not including gongs, military honours and suffixes):
- Major-General (Ret'd) Michael Jeffery
- The Right Reverend Doctor Peter Hollingworth
- The Honourable Sir (Justice, Ret'd) William Deane
- The Honourable Bill Hayden
- The Right Honourable Sir (Justice, Ret'd) Ninian Stephen
And since they've retired, Hollingworth and Jeffery will have had "The Honourable" added on to the start of theirs. Which makes it almost refreshing that we can get someone like Bryce who is merely a "Ms".
NB: For the benefit of my international readers, our head of state appears to be defined roughly as the Governor-General on behalf of the British monarch. Hence the confusion about who the head of state actually is. A lot of non-Aussies usually ask me at this point, if they're not the head of state, then what is the role of the Prime Minister? In short, the PM is the head of government: In Westminster parliamentary systems, the two roles (heads of government and state) are separate.
I was prompted after reading about Bryce to go back and look at the Constitutional Convention of 1998 where the question was put about what model republic we would have if we were ever to become a republic. After some serious fighting, it was proposed that a model with minimalist changes should be proposed at a referendum as an alternative.
This model would merely erase mention of the British monarch and change the name of the GG to "President". I would have gone one step less myself and kept the title of "Governor-General".
Some say that the referendum that followed was sabotaged by then Prime Minister, John Howard. Unfortunately, this was misdirected anger, as Howard was a scapegoat for those who really destroyed the whole process. Sure, he did assist in stacking the delegates, writing the referendum motion and the red herring that was the proposed preamble was genius.
The process of Australia becoming a republic was, in actual fact, destroyed by a bunch of "republicans" making a noise about how any future president should be directly elected by the people, not appointed as proposed. Prominent Australians who were opposed to an appointed figurehead and who supported an elected one included Eddie McGuire, Phil Cleary, Ted Mack and Clem Jones. These "republicans" supported a "No" vote in the referendum on these grounds.
I use quotes deliberately to make a point: There have been, since the failed referendum, three GGs appointed. Two of which were controversial: the very controversial Hollingworth, former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, and the mildly controversial Jeffery, former Major-General in the Australian Army.
Each of these appointments in turn, called into question the links between church and state, and military and state. And in the case of Hollingworth, was almost completely disastrous.
It's interesting to note, however, that even though three GGs have been appointed since the referendum, not once have any of the "republicans" who supported the "No" vote in the referendum come forward to campaign for a directly elected Governor-General.
(Nor for that matter, have any of these buffoons proposed direct elections for the post of Queen/King of Australia. Which is the post that the British monarch holds.)
I don't think that I'm the first to issue this challenge, but this goes out to all you hypocrites who campaigned for a republic with a directly elected head of state: Either you immediately campaign for (at the very least) a directly elected GG, or you all fess up that you're all closet monarchists.
It's that simple.