Speech

Address By

His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd)

ON THE OCCASION OF

ADDRESS TO THE JOINT SITTING OF PARLIAMENT ON THE OCCASION OF THE SWEARING IN OF THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL

Parliament House, Canberra

28 March 2014

Prime Minister

President of the Senate

Speaker of the House of Representatives

Chief Justice

Leader of the Opposition

Members of the Ministry

Members of the Australian Parliament

Members of the Diplomatic Corps

Distinguished guests

My fellow Australians

 

Consequent upon the oaths I have just taken, I assume the office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, the 26th person to do so, the 13th Australian to hold the office.

Let me start by paying my respects to the Ngunnawal people on whose land we meet and through them to all the Indigenous people and their nations within Australia and all its territory.

I am at once humbled and proud to assume the role as Governor-General: humbled to know something of the great men and the one woman to have preceded me and proud beyond description of Australia, of its men and women and of their history, their heritage, their present genius and their hopeful future. To think that I will play some part of the public discourse in that regard extends to me, my wife and family the greatest honour of our fortunate lives.

A moment ago I spoke about the one woman to have filled the office of Governor-General. This is my first very public opportunity to add my congratulations to those already given by all of you here in the Parliament to Dame Quentin Bryce and her husband Michael for their great efforts over the last 5 ½ years. I wish them a long, healthy and joyful future in the satisfaction of their most eminent service to our nation.

I come to the tasks of the appointment in some senses, ‘agenda-free’. What I mean by this is that my wife and I will be attentive to any and all agenda we encounter, that sit within a broad and fundamental set of Australian values- values that respect and uphold equity, compassion, generosity, tolerance and energetic ambition.

Our nation prides itself on high levels of social inclusiveness and harmony and equity and compared to most nations on earth that pride is not misplaced. Yet in the broad and indeed in some special sectors of our community, we remain imperfect, a ‘work-in-progress’.  There is a role for the Governor-General, in the words of one of my predecessors, to reflect the community to itself, without becoming partisan and I will embrace those opportunities enthusiastically.

In the year I had as ‘Australian of the Year’ in 2001, I had the great honour, alongside my continuing military service, to visit many parts of our national community. That was not only an honour but in retrospect a formidable insight into my forthcoming tasks – formidable but not daunting. I pledge all my energy and goodwill to all the tasks of Australia’s Governor-General, not least those working within the wider community.

Moving to a close, I address all the parliamentarians present, in this place, the hub of one of the world’s great democracies. As the elected representatives of and within Australia’s communities, you will know best of all the vibrancy, even stridency of political discourse in this nation, of its robustness, even its abrasiveness. Yet the Australian people, even when occasionally expressing mild alarm and sometimes disappointment in the tenor of the political battle maintain a profound, underlying confidence that our system of government will continue to serve the nation’s needs effectively.

Let me illustrate:

In the House of Representatives on 13th February this year, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition made Statements on Indulgence, concerning the award posthumously, of the Victoria Cross to Corporal Cameron Baird: The Prime Minister said, “I salute Corporal Cameron Baird VC MG . . . in this place we do not face danger, so we can hardly claim him as our brother, but we do acclaim him as our hero. We can hardly imagine what the likes of Corporal Baird and his comrades go through but we stand in awe of their extraordinary courage, the extraordinary courage of these amazing men who serve our country and keep us safe.”

Immediately thereafter, the Leader of the Opposition said, “All Australians admire courage. All of us aspire to be strong. But bravery and strength is not restricted to those who are decorated. Corporal Baird – and all his fellow soldiers are heroes. But there can be no doubt that Corporal Baird was the sort of man that every soldier would aspire to be. We hail and salute Corporal Cameron Baird . . . he lives in the injured hearts of those he left too soon.”

Ladies and gentlemen of the Parliament - those remarks, that unity of spirit, that instinct to reflect the mood of the Australian people at a special moment, was as much representative of the strength of our democracy as any of the partisan issues of our times.

Lynne and I reiterate our consciousness of the great honour and great responsibility conferred upon us and now it’s time to get to work.

Thank you Mr President and Madam Speaker.