As he prepares to hand over the keys to Government House after seven esteemed years in office, Contact sat down with His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC CVO to reflect on the highlights of his term and the legacy he leaves.
A sense of calm and tranquillity washes over you as you approach the steep, curved driveway towards Government House.
The sprawling gardens and grand white structure perched atop Fernberg Road in Paddington have welcomed countless dignitaries and tens of thousands of visitors over the years.
Today, Contact magazine is one of those lucky visitors. And, as we sit in the ornate drawing room, preparing to interview His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC CVO in his final days as Governor of Queensland, the first question that comes to mind is: what will you miss most about this job and its enviable workplace?
His response is direct, but not entirely surprising.
“The interaction with the people of Queensland,” he says.
“I believe the abiding theme of this governorship has been the community involvement. The ceremonial and constitutional aspects of the role are obviously very important, but it's the community interaction that has engaged me most of all.
“The people we’ve met and the places we’ve visited have been extraordinary.”
It’s been an intense seven-year term. Since being appointed Governor on 29 July 2014, His Excellency has visited more than 300 Queensland communities – from Longreach to Croydon to the Torres Strait.
“These are not just fleeting visits; most of them are for appreciable periods,” the UQ graduate (Bachelor of Arts ’69, Bachelor of Laws (Honours) ’71, Honorary Doctor of Laws ’00) says.
“Engagements here in Brisbane are also quite unremitting. But it's very stimulating to have that sort of engagement with the people of Queensland, and the state geographically.
“Some people might not realise that the islands in the Torres Strait are part of Queensland. One of my early wonderful experiences was visiting Horn Island, on the way to Thursday Island.
“[The islands] are self-contained communities and don't have much exposure to the rest of Queensland, so it was a wonderful experience to spend time in those communities.
“Unfortunately, due the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to visit as many Indigenous communities as in previous years.
“During the course of this governorship, we have visited all but four of the remote Indigenous communities in the local authority area. We were scheduled to visit the remaining few, but were advised not to do so in person because of the risk to those communities, which is a shame.”
His Excellency was known as a ‘judge of the people’ during his time as a Supreme Court judge and Chief Justice of Queensland, and one his goals when he became Governor in 2014 was to change the perception of the role as being merely ceremonial.
“I was initially concerned the role might be regarded as anachronistic,” he says.
“But I was soon disabused of that concern because it's a role that's greatly appreciated by the people. And what they appreciate particularly is the impartiality, the independence and the detachment from any suggestion of politics on the part of the Governor.
“They can open their hearts to the Governor, confident that if the Governor can do anything to help alleviate their plight, or to address their concerns, he or she will.”
Prior to being appointed as Governor, His Excellency had enjoyed an illustrious career in law, becoming a barrister at age 23, and Queen’s Council at 33. He was appointed as a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 1985, when aged 36 years, and became the 17th Chief Justice of Queensland on 17 February 1998, at 49, serving in that role for more than 16 years until 8 July 2014.
During his career, His Excellency also chaired the Queensland Law Reform Commission, was President of the Industrial Court of Queensland, was the first Chief Justice to conduct a murder trial in Longreach and to exercise the criminal jurisdiction of the District Court on Thursday Island, and undertook sittings throughout Queensland as a Supreme Court judge.
While studying a Bachelor Arts and Bachelor of Laws at UQ, he attended King’s College between 1969 and 1970 and was an active member of the Queensland University Regiment.
He met his wife, Kaye, while she was working as a librarian in St Lucia’s Law Library, and says he is particularly grateful for the lifelong friendships he forged during his time as a student.
His Excellency has maintained a lasting relationship with his alma mater, both in a personal and professional capacity.
He lists a number of highlights in terms of official engagements with UQ, including attending the UQ Alumni reception, hosted by Professor Sarah Derrington in London, as part of his overseas visit as Governor in October 2014; attending UQ Senate dinners; presenting LEAD Scholarships at Government House in 2017; hosting the 50th Anniversary of the Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland event; announcing multiple Rhodes Scholars; and receiving the calls of successive Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors.
In 2015, His Excellency was recognised as one of six recipients of a UQ Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Excellence Award.
“I have an affectionate relationship with UQ, and it’s also a relationship based on gratitude,” he says.
“All members of my family received a wonderful tertiary education at UQ, and we're all very grateful for that as it’s led to developing very worthwhile careers.
“In my role as Governor, it’s been important to be involved with all Queensland universities. They are all facing great challenges, and they all have the capacity to rise to those challenges.”
Authored by UQ graduate Madonna King and David Fagan, the book features personal interviews with His Excellency, as well as with former Governors the Honourable Leneen Forde AC, Major General the Honourable Peter Arnison AC CVO, the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, and the Honourable Penelope Wensley AC.
The book aims to increase public understanding and awareness of the duties of the Governor – as well as the role of Government House in the administration of Queensland – and has been deposited in schools and all council and university libraries in Queensland.
“We were so pleased when UQP agreed to publish the book because that automatically gave it some gravitas,” His Excellency says.
“And I must say, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It's readable, but it also plays an important role in informing people about the office.”
His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC CVO outside Government House. Image: Anjanette Webb
His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC CVO outside Government House. Image: Anjanette Webb
On top of the success of the book, His Excellency also beams with pride as he mentions the steady increase in social media engagement during his time in office.
Social media is terribly important in publicising what we do, and in terms of accountability,” he says.
“We have a great following on Facebook. However, I won't deny that many of them are following us to keep up with the adventures of Gavel, the Vice-Regal dog.
“People love him all over the world.”
A major challenge during His Excellency’s final years as Governor has been continuing to connect with Queenslanders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Various lockdowns and threats of outbreaks have restricted face-to-face community involvement and Government House visits; however, video meetings have allowed His Excellency to continue vital engagements with community leaders across the state.
He says he is particularly proud of the way Queenslanders have responded to the crisis.
“The frontline workers – doctors, nurses and emergency workers – are deserving of immense gratitude. But one thing that has struck me out in the regions is the acceptance of the need to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, even though they’ve had limited case numbers,” he said.
“They could easily have said, ‘oh no, this is a city thing – it has nothing to do with us.’ But they realised, rationally, that the virus can easily spread into their communities.”
His Excellency’s final day as Governor is 1 November, when he will hand over to Queensland’s current Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, who has led the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His Excellency stopped short of offering any advice to the incoming Governor; however, he admitted he’d drawn on some lessons of former Governors at various times.
“I’m full of admiration for Sir Walter Campbell AC and the way he handled the constitutional crisis that confronted him when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen wanted to sack his ministry in 1987,” he says.
“The lesson I learnt was that it’s a matter of patience. For example, if there's a fraught result on election night, these things tend to work themselves out. For a Governor to intervene precipitously would be a most terrible thing because the will of the people has to prevail.
“Fortunately, for me, the will of the people has always expressed itself in the end.
“Another major lesson was about the power of opening up Government House to the public. In that regard, Leneen Forde was a pioneer.”
Beyond Government House and the courtroom, His Excellency has devoted considerable time to charitable and community initiatives, including as President of the Australian Cancer Society, Chairman of the Queensland Cancer Fund, and Chancellor of the Brisbane Diocese of the Anglican Church. This extensive community involvement was recognised in 2000 when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
“I think [charities and community involvement] have just been an adjunct of my life, which has been predominantly one of public service,” he says.
“I would tend to be sought out for other public roles and it's a matter of bringing your talents voluntarily to the institutions for which you feel some particular association.
“As of the first of November, I'll have a clean slate in terms of commitments. I'm 73, so I've got a few years left in me, but we'll just have to wait and see what comes along.”