Quentin Bryce was hailed as a breath of fresh air when she was sworn in as Australian Governor-General last year. She was female (a first for Australia), she was liberal-minded, and she promised to be an outspoken advocate for Aborigines and other disadvantaged people.
While few fault her energy and commitment to the job, it seems all is not well at Government House, her official residence in Canberra. A staggering 30 staff – one third of the total – have quit their jobs since she arrived in September last year.
Ms Bryce's official secretary, Stephen Brady, defended his boss when grilled about the exodus by a parliamentary budget committee this week. But one former employee told The Australian: "She is just a very difficult person to work for. She plays favourites, and if she doesn't like you, you are history. She freezes you out."
That reputation preceded her to Canberra from Brisbane, where Ms Bryce had previously spent five years as governor of Queensland state. During that period, dozens of staff – including chauffeurs, chefs, gardeners and footmen – walked out, upset by her allegedly high-handed manner.
Ms Bryce clashed with senior aides about the propriety of hosting private functions, including barbecues, pool parties and even a wedding reception for her son, at the Brisbane residence.
According to the Courier-Mail newspaper, she also complained about a lack of wardrobe space, which resulted in her ironed clothes getting crushed. She ordered flowers to be torn out of their beds because they were the wrong colour, and allowed her children to turn the Queensland residence into a hotel for their friends.
Even before arriving in Canberra, Ms Bryce ruffled feathers by sacking the official secretary, Malcolm Hazell, who had served her two predecessors. Mr Brady, who replaced him, is an old friend of the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
Mr Brady told the committee: "Working in an office such as ours is challenging, it's demanding, it requires a constant ability to deal with change. Some staff respond well to that, and occasionally there might be someone who doesn't." He described Ms Bryce as "an amiable, very highly regarded person".
A spokeswoman for Ms Bryce said nine employees had been on short-term contracts, while 13 had moved to other government agencies, four had moved interstate and one had resigned for personal reasons.
The Governor-General can take comfort from the fact that she is not the only senior public figure said to be difficult to work with. Mr Rudd himself has a reputation for being demanding and grumpy, with a short fuse. Since he was elected two years ago, there has been a 66 per cent turnover of staff in his office.Reuse content