Robert Haupt, “Spend on! Don’t spare the cheques,”
The Sydney Morning Herald, October 11, 1990, p. 13.
ROBERT HAUPT responds to the final report to Parliament by Sir David Smith, the Governor-General’s former official secretary.
Dear Smith. We’re sorry. Here we were, preoccupied with our mortgages and trying to keep ahead of our interest payments and wondering whether there will be jobs for our children, and we clean forgot about the plight of he who toils at Yarralumla. You were right to bring this scandal to our attention. Something will have to be done.
As you so correctly pointed out yesterday, these are desperate times for Governors-General. When I read that ours has to get by on a household budget of barely more than $8 million, I immediately thought of those ladies and gentlemen (some surprisingly dapper, these days) whom one sees in the street casting sly glances at the contents of rubbish bins. Eight million dollars, to last a whole 12 months — why, that’s a mere $21,917.81 a day. Talk about scrimp! I do hope you’re reusing your soap scraps.
And as you would well know, Smith, the trouble one has these days finding decent help! Lord love a duck, it’s hard enough to find gardeners who can recognise a potting shed, let alone someone who can serve a bowl of soup without putting his thumb in it. And maids! Wouldn’t know a curtsy from a kangaroo, most of them.
There is, we are told, a staff of 81 at Yarralumla. The only surprise here is that the place can get by with so few. I should think that with the judicious addition of a deputy under-chauffeur here and a brace of footmen there we could quite justifiably — and without the slightest suggestion of featherbedding — get those numbers up above 100 quite quickly. That would, of course, require a commensurate increase in administrative staff, to make sure everything ran smoothly. Oh, and let me add a suggestion: why not a string orchestra? There is nothing more lovely than a fine string orchestra.
We all know the cost of calling a tradesman these days. Some may carp at the $350,000 that had to be spent on the dining and drawing rooms — there have been mean-spirited comparisons between the money spent on these two rooms and the sums average Australians spend on (or, rather, borrow for) entire homes — but those of us who have had our drawing-rooms repaired lately will sympathise. Of course, there are in Australia people whose homes, believe it or not, do not actually have drawing-rooms. Ignorant, ill-lettered people, for the most part, who are really the least-equipped of all to criticise.
The point which you were too polite to make yourself, Smith, is that Bill Hayden is not an average Australian. Look at the evidence: average Australians pay income tax; Bill doesn’t pay a cent. Average Australians drive Holdens and Mazdas; Bill has Rolls-Royces. And do average Australians earn $95,000, plus board and lodgings (cramped and inconvenient though those lodgings may be)? That’s $1,826.92 a week, for indoor work with no heavy lifting. No, of course they don’t. Indeed, I’ve looked up the figures for average Australians: they earn $470 a week. Clear proof there that Bill’s not average.
Nor does the average Australian have a holiday house bang on Sydney Harbour, just across from the Opera House. Average Australians, if they have holiday houses at all, have them at places like Nambucca Heads and they’re made of fibro and the septic tank pongs in the heat.
Bill used to be an average Australian, so he could perhaps remember how the members of that tribe live if he put his mind to it. But he became a Your Excellency.
The Rolls-Royces, the VIP planes, the mansions, the servants, the tax-free salary — all these trappings of aristocracy are there to remind the incumbent of Yarralumla that he’s not Bill Hayden, the bloke to have a beer with, but His Excellency the Governor-General, the latest in a long line of viceroys through whom Britain ruled her possessions (and about who few Australians have ever cared more than a tuppeny damn).
In a way, Bill Hayden has ceased to exist. Like Rupert Murdoch’s evening newspapers, he has been marginalised through merger, turned into a vestige of the fellow we used to like and respect, a sad joke in an office whose chief function is to invent ways of justifying itself.
The idea of an economical Governor-General is a contradiction in terms, like a humble monarch or a shy celebrity. The whole point of Government House is that it must be splendid, and splendour by definition cannot come cheap.
So fie to those heartless bureaucrats in Treasury and Prime Ministers who curbed the chequebook! And as for Your Excellency, spend on, m’lud! Spend on, and cry, “God for England, Bill Hayden and St George!”
(Signed) One of your humble servants.
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