Quentin Bryce

Quentin Alice Louise Bryce, AC (born 23 December 1942) is the 25th and current Governor-General of Australia (the first woman to hold the position) and a former Governor of Queensland. Born in Brisbane, Queensland as Quentin Strachan, she spent her first years in Ilfracombe, with her family subsequently living in a number of country towns around Australia. She attended the University of Queensland, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts and a degree in Law, becoming one of the first women accepted to the Queensland bar.

Ilfracombe,QLD

In 1968 she became the first woman to be a faculty member of the Law school where she had studied, and in 1978 she joined the new National Women’s Advisory Council. This was followed by a number of positions, including the first director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service, the Queensland director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 1988. Her services to the community saw her appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1988, and a Companion of the Order of Australia and Dame of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 2003.

Bryce was appointed the Governor of Queensland in 2003. Although some concerns were raised during her time in the position, her five-year term was to be extended until 2009. However, on 13 April 2008, before the completion of the initial five years, it was announced that Bryce was to become the next Governor-General of Australia. The decision was generally well received, and on 5 September 2008 Bryce was sworn in, succeeding Major General Michael Jeffery, becoming the first woman to be the Governor-General.

Early life

Quentin Strachan was born on 23 December 1942, in Brisbane, the second of four daughters. Her parents, Norman Strachan and Naida Wetzel, had taken up residence at Ilfracombe in 1940, where her father had accepted a position as the manager of the local wool–scour. Her mother was employed as a schoolteacher before marrying Strachan, and Quentin—along with all of the children in her family—was home-schooled, rather than attending the local State school. Her family left the area in 1949, initially relocating to Launceston in Tasmania, where they remained for approximately a year. Returning to Queensland, her family moved to Belmont, where her father was engaged to open a new wool–scour. It was when living in Belmont that she attended the Camp Hill State School, and it was there that she first met her future husband, Michael Bryce.

During the period that they were residing in Belmont, her father purchased a property near Tenterfield in New South Wales, where he took up sheep farming. In 1956 Quentin Strachan started attending boarding school at Moreton Bay College, Wynnum, Brisbane, while her parents managed “a couple of stations out west”. Upon graduating from high school she undertook studies at the University of Queensland; initially enrolling in a social work and arts degree, but transferring to Law in her third year at the institution. She graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts in 1962 and Bachelor of Laws in 1965. She married Michael Bryce in 1964. In 1965, she was one of the first women to be admitted to the Queensland bar, although she has never practised professionally.

Career

After spending some time in London, Bryce returned to Australia and accepted a part-time tutoring position at the T. C. Beirne School of Law at the University of Queensland in 1968, thus becoming the first woman to be appointed to the faculty. In 1969 she took up a lecturing position at the law school, and she continued to teach at the university until 1983.

In 1978 the Fraser government formed the National Women’s Advisory Council, and Bryce was “vaulted to prominence” with her appointment to the council, taking on the role of convener in 1982. In 1984 she became the first director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service under the umbrella of the Office of the Status of Women, and was appointed as the “women’s representative on the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation”. Then in 1987 she became the Queensland director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC).

Over a five-year period (1988-1993) Bryce served as Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner during the time of the Hawke Labor government. Her time in the role was a busy one, with around 2,000 complaints being handled by the commission each year, and the work was both difficult and complex. The period was also noted as being one of “galloping legal reform” for the rights of women, yet, as Sandra McLean described it, Bryce kept a firm grip on the “reins of change” during this time. Nevertheless, concerns were raised when in 1990 Alexander Proudfoot formally complained that the women’s health centres in the Australian Capital Territory were operating in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act. This culminated in 1994 when Bryce faced an HREOC hearing after being accused of discriminating against Proudfoot – and ended when the commission found in Bryce’s favour and dismissed the complaint, stating that the behaviour in question “did not reflect on the way Ms Bryce discharged her duties”.

After finishing her time as the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Quentin Bryce became the founding chair and chief executive officer of the National Childcare Accreditation Council, where she remained for three years, before changing direction between 1997 and 2003 when she became the principal and chief executive officer of The Women’s College within the University of Sydney, New South Wales. The move was said to have “stunned her political and legal acquaintances”, but Bryce saw it as bringing “together all the life skills and attributes” that she had acquired, as well as providing an opportunity to have an influence on the student’s futures.

In other roles, Bryce has been the chair of the National Breast Cancer Advisory Council and sat on the Australian Women’s Cricket Board, and has been a member of organizations such as the YWCA, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation and the Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital.

Governor of Queensland

In 2003, on the recommendation of the Premier Peter Beattie, Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, appointed her Governor of Queensland, the second woman to occupy the position. Once Bryce’s nomination had been accepted by the Queen, Beattie opened it up for debate in the Queensland Legislative Assembly—an “unprecedented” move performed by the Premier as the first step in changing the manner by which the nominations are managed. Nevertheless, the outcome was never in doubt, as Beattie had a majority in the Queensland Legislative Assembly and had “cleared the vote with the National and Liberal leaders” prior to the debate.

Bryce’s stint at Government House was not always peaceful, but she was considered by some as a “highly respected figure” during her time as Governor. Concerns raised in the media included the “substantial” exit of staff at Government House not long after Bryce became Governor, (as at least eight staff, including the Executive Office, Head Chef, House Manager and Gardener left during her term), and the use of Government House for private parties. In response to the latter, Beattie argued that there was nothing wrong with holding private functions at Government House, especially as Bryce had paid for the events out of her own pocket, while the Queensland Public Sector Union stated in 2008 that the staff disputes were “with the management as a whole, but there wasn’t anything specific against the Governor”. Staff at Queensland Government House had not been enthusiastic about Bryce as Queensland Governor. One former staff member described Bryce:

“She’s a control freak. She’s all sweet and understanding in public, but in private it was a whole different ball game.” In January 2008 it was announced her initial 5-year term, due to end in late July 2008, was to be extended to cover the period of Queensland’s sesquicentennial celebrations in 2009. In making the announcement, Labor Premier Anna Bligh described how Bryce had been an “inspiring leader” while serving as Governor, and acknowledged Bryce’s willingness to spend a “great deal of time” in regional and remote areas, serving as a “Governor for all of Queensland”. The extension did not eventuate, however, as she was appointed Governor-General (see below), and she was succeeded as Queensland Governor on 29 July 2008 by Penelope Wensley.

Governor-General

On 13 April 2008 it was announced that, on the recommendation of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the Queen had approved her appointment as the next Governor-General of Australia. The decision was generally well received: current and previous State Premiers supported her selection, and both the then Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, and the leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, spoke in favour of the decision. From the wider community, Patricia Edgar described Bryce’s selection as an “inspired choice”, while Jill Singer in the Herald Sun stated that the decision signalled “an important about face for Australia”.

Nevertheless, there was some opposition to the appointment, in particular from columnist Des Houghton, who argued that she would bring a “fair bit of baggage” to the role (in reference to the controversies surrounding her time as the Governor of Queensland), and that she had failed to live up to her promise to be outspoken during her time at Government House. Concerns were also raised in August 2008, when it was revealed that Bryce intended to replace Malcolm Hazell, who had been the Official Secretary for both Major General Michael Jeffery and Dr. Peter Hollingworth, with Stephen Brady. Kevin Rudd defended Bryce’s decision, arguing that she had the right to appoint a new Official Secretary.

Bryce was sworn in on 5 September 2008. On 23 September 2008 she granted her first interview as Governor-General with Kerry O’Brien for The 7.30 Report on ABC1.

Bryce has not escaped criticism in her role as Governor-General. Greg Sheridan in the national newspaper, The Australian suggested that Bryce is risking “politicising and misusing the office”. Sheridan was commenting on Bryce’s planned trip to Africa, on behalf of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to lobby for a seat for Australia in the United Nations Security Council. He further stated that Bryce’s “feigned interest in Africa will be seen cynically by Africans”. Sheridan added that the Governor-General should travel overseas “only rarely and for ceremonial purposes” and “they have no right to engage in foreign policy debate, at home or abroad”. Professor David Flint, National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, expressed concern about Bryce, and supported Sheridan’s opinion. He stated, “The Governor-General must act on advice, except in relation to her most important role, that of constitutional guardian. She may advise against a state visit, but if ministers insist, must go. In that event, she must not of course act as an advocate, although she may inform the foreign government of the Australian government’s policy.” Flint warned that Governor-General Bryce must be seen to be above politics otherwise she would lose the confidence of the Australian people.

Powers

There are some powers which the Governor-General may, in certain circumstances, exercise without – or contrary to – ministerial advice. These are known as the reserve powers. While the reserve powers are not codified as such, they are generally agreed to at least include:

  • The power to appoint a Prime Minister if an election has resulted in a ‘hung parliament’;
  • The power to dismiss a Prime Minister where he or she has lost the confidence of the Parliament;
  • The power to dismiss a Prime Minister or Minister when he or she is acting unlawfully; and
  • The power to refuse to dissolve the House of Representatives despite a request from the Prime Minister.

See: Powers

Contact

To contact the Governor-General or Government House, the postal address is:

  • Government House
  • Dunrossil Drive
  • YARRALUMLA ACT 2600
  • Tel: (02) 6283 3533
  • Fax: (02) 6281 3760

You can now e-mail the Office at governor-general@gg.gov.au however you should be aware that all correspondence is processed by the Office before coming to the attention of the Governor-General. Please read the Privacy Statement.














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