Australia appoints second woman governor-general in 123 years to represent British monarch

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia appointed Sam Mostyn on Monday as only its second woman governor-general, a largely ceremonial role representing the British monarch who is the nation’s head of state.

It is the first such Australian appointment since the reign of King Charles III began in 2022 and the first by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's center-left Labor Party government that wants to replace the British monarch with an Australian president as head of state.

The businesswoman and gender equality advocate, who in 2005 became the first woman Australian Football League Commissioner, was sworn in as Australia's 28th governor-general since 1901.

In her first speech in her new role, Mostyn quoted Australia’s first woman governor-general Quentin Bryce, who described her role in 2013 as “striking a balance between observing traditions and protocol and being thoroughly contemporary.”

“I will be an optimistic, modern and visible governor-general, committed to the service and contribution that all Australians expect and deserve from the holder of this office,” Mostyn said.

Mostyn said she had spoken about the role with all five surviving former governors-general, including Bryce who was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of a Labor prime minister and served from 2008 and 2014.

Albanese’s government was elected in 2022 advocating for a referendum to create an Australian republic with an Australian citizen as head of state.

But he gave preference to holding a referendum in his government’s first three-year term to enshrine in the constitution an Indigenous panel that would advise the government on Indigenous issues.

That referendum was defeated last year and though Albanese has not yet announced plans for a republic referendum, the office of Assistant Minister for the Republic has been created to prepare the nation for change.

Critics of Mostyn’s appointment highlight her past activism. She had also supported an Australian republic and described Australia Day, the arrival of the first British colonists at the site of Sydney on Jan. 26, 1788, as “Invasion Day,” a term used by some Indigenous leaders.

Mostyn said she had met the king in Britain in May and passed on Australians’ best wishes for the health of both he and Kate, Princess of Wales, who are being treated for cancer.

“I am not the first Australian to be struck by the interest and warmth the king feels for this country where he lived and studied as a young man,” Mostyn said, referring to several months he had spent as a teen in an Australian boarding school in 1966.

Many Labor Party supporters who want a republic remember the 1975 dismissal of Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's government by then Governor-General John Kerr.

Mostyn recalled watching television news coverage of that constitutional crisis as a 10-year-old in a Canberra hospital where she was being treated for a broken leg.

Mostyn replaces Gen. David Hurley, a former Australian Defense Force chief.

The government last week passed legislation to raise the governor-general's pay to 709,000 Australian dollars a year ($473,000) for her five-year term, drawing criticism from some lawmakers that the salary was excessive. Hurley was paid AU$495,000 (330,000) a year, but also received a military pension.