Image for Keeping alive the British colonial tradition of tugging our forelocks ...

*Pic: From Wikipedia here

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The magnificent ballroom ...

The price Tasmanian taxpayers pay each year for the privilege of keeping alive the British colonial tradition of tugging our forelocks ...

Tasmania’s next governor will be one of the highest paid in Australia earning $427,245. With superannuation and entitlements,according to Barry Primsall at the Examiner, the figure rises to $611,000.

And this is just the beginning. Then there is the cost of the running and the upkeep of Government House – the magnificent colonial mansion Tasmanians own, but most will never enter, locked up as it is for the privileged few, a lost tourist opportunity.

Let’s put the Governor’s wages into context: the Governor-General of Australia earns $425,000 a year plus entitlements.

The New South Wales governor earns $445,000 [and lives in a city flat while NSW Government House is open to the public and is a tourist drawcard].

Can we seriously afford to appoint a new governor at the same rate of pay? Jonathan West in the Griffith Review last year provided a scathing review of the state of Tasmania. The question West provocatively posed still remains unanswered: “what it is about Tasmanian culture and society that permits such an abrogation of responsibility, a refusal to confront reality?”

And why do we pay our governor – in a state of half a million people – more than the nation pays the Governor-General of Australia?

Our finest public colonial residence locked away from tourists and the Tasmanian public

Government House: our finest public colonial residence locked away from tourists and the Tasmanian public

We need to separate the ongoing republic issue from the cost of keeping a governor and Government House in its current exclusive state, and look at why we can’t make changes right now for the betterment of Tasmanians and as part of the attempt to find solutions to fix our dire economy.

Why do we continue to meekly follow the antiquated colonial tradition of keeping one of our finest public colonial buildings locked away from tourists and Tasmanians?

We make much of our colonial heritage as a tourist drawcard and it undoubtedly is a huge attraction and brings visitors to the state.

So let’s try to understand the logic: as these tourists keen to get a taste of our colonial heritage drive over the Tasman Bridge and into the capital the first and most impressive colonial building they see is Government House, sitting magnificently proud amongst the manicured lawns and colonial gardens.

‘Wow, let’s go there!’ Argh, no, you cannot enter. This is the best view you will get of this iconic colonial building gracing the postcards you send home to family and friends. But don’t feel too bad, Tasmanians,who pay for its upkeep and pay for one chosen family to live within its walls, are also locked out.

Grateful Tasmanians become delirious with appreciation when the gilt-edged letter arrives in the post inviting them to grace the hallowed halls of Government House for a reception once or twice in a lifetime [unless they are particularly hardworking in the right areas or well-connected].

Peter Underwood is to be commended

The masses nowadays do have the privilege, thanks to the initiative of the late Governor Peter Underwood, to once a year stand for hours in the long queues in the broiling January sun for the very special privilege of entering, in single file and under close scrutiny, the magnificent colonial building they pay their hard-earned tax dollars to keep. While I focus on the limitations of this Open Day it must be acknowledged that the precedent established by the late Governor is significant. His forward-thinking attitude in welcoming all Tasmanians into Government House opened up the conversation about the building and its use and started people thinking about the possibilities. He is to be commended on his decision. 

So can we imagine the next Governor not taking up residence in Government House? Remember the Governor of New South Wales lives in a city flat and travels to Government House to work – to host events etc. The Government House in New South Wales is also open daily to tourists and to the public to host art and cultural events including regular musical events.

And yet our gem – with its magnificent ballroom where the acoustics are perfect for string quartets – remains locked up to the general public.

How much does it cost to keep Government House? The figures are difficult to find and don’t appear to be separated from the Governor’s salary. In the State Government’s Treasurer’s Annual Financial Report for 2012-13 under Office of the Governor there is an annual cost of recurrent services of $3 million dollars with an additional $1 million ‘reserved by law’. In 2012-13 that $1 million does not appear to have been used and the actual cost was $3 million dollars. In the previous year [2011-12] the additional million was used with a total cost of $4 million to taxpayers.

If we set the republic question aside, as it seems we aren’t yet ready to revisit that topic, we can address the excessive cost of continuing to clutch to our colonial past, with all of its inequities of privilege and class.

Open the building up to tourist revenue

Before a new governor is appointed Tasmania can redress the excessive cost. The Government can reduce the Governor’s wages and stop the expensive elitist tradition of the Governor living in residence - and open the building up to tourist revenue.

There are significant savings to be made and significant opportunities to increase our revenue from this magnificent site through tourism. Rather than a cost the site can start to pay its way and provide much needed revenue to the state.

At the very least opening Government House to the public and for public events will attract visitors, local, interstate and overseas visitors, and allow them to experience a little colonial grandeur and thus to better understand Tasmania’s colonial convict/class heritage from the British.

Open up a few more operating theatresor schoolrooms

The next governor will leave his/her fine family home to take up residence, in regal tradition, in Government House. The Governor of Tasmania, like the elected Premier, and the rest for us, should leave his/her private residence each day to go to work – just as the governors in the others states have been doing for decades.

The savings just might open up a few more operating theatres or schoolrooms.

More than a year ago Jonathan West wrote that in Tasmania ‘problems and challenges are debated endlessly, with no resolution’. Will we remain passive and inactive and wring our hands as the inequities and the colonial excesses continue? Will the state’s most impressive colonial residence in public hands remain locked away from the public and potential tourist revenue at the same time as we continue to promote our island’s colonial heritage?

Tasmanian-born Dr Nicola Goc is a senior lecturer in Journalism, Media and Communications at the University of Tasmania. She has a passion for social and cultural history and is currently working on a project on the media and post-war migrants. She is the author of several books on Tasmanian history including Sandy Bay: A Social History and Tasmanians Remember: 1900-1969. She has visited Government House on several occasions both via the summer queue with overseas visitors and as an invited guest.