Former Defence Chief Peter Cosgrove is likely to be at the top of the short list for the next governor-general if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister.
The Coalition is concerned that the Gillard government is making a number of appointments ahead of the election for positions coming up after it and has fired a warning shot that it should not choose a new governor-general.
Some time ago Quentin Bryce’s term was extended until March – well past the election.
The government believes that Abbott wants to make former prime minister John Howard governor-general.
A senior government source said: “Abbott misses the point of due diligence - it’s not just a matter of putting out a press release. We can’t afford another Hollingworth.”
This was a reference to the Howard appointment of Peter Hollingworth, who eventually stood down after a controversy over his handling, as an Anglican archbishop, of sexual abuse issues.
Coalition sources put General Cosgrove, rather than Howard, as the likely choice.
General Cosgrove was head of the Australian Defence force from 2002 to 2005. Earlier he built a highly popular national profile when he led the international peace keeping force in East Timor.
While ex-politicians have served as governors-general, the very well-regarded former military man would be an uncontroversial pick.
It is highly unlikely that the Gillard government would try to select anyone ahead of the election, because of the sensitivity of the post and the row it would cause. It would also be hard to get a candidate in those circumstances.
Abbott told Sky, “The Coalition reserves the right to reconsider appointments that are made by this government well in advance of those appointments being taken up.
"What we can’t have is a situation where an outgoing government attempts to reach out from the political grave to make decisions far after its political death.” He said he was making “a general statement”.
Pressed on the governor-general post, Abbott said: “I haven’t mentioned that particular office and the last thing I want to do is to politicise the office of governor-general. But I am conscious of the fact that the Governor-General’s term expires I think in the middle of March next year.
"I would have thought that that would certainly be one of those appointments that ought to be left to an incoming government, if there is an incoming government”.