How will Sam Mostyn’s career-long advocacy shape her role as governor general? | Australian politics

The gender equality advocate Prof Rae Cooper was initially shocked when she saw her colleague and friend, Samantha Mostyn, had been announced as Australia’s next governor general.

“I sent quite a few expletive-laden texts to various people, including the [incoming] governor general,” Cooper said.

But once the initial surprise passed, it made complete sense to Cooper, who has worked with Mostyn for a decade, including with the Women’s Economic Equality taskforce established by the Albanese government in late 2022.

“I think from my work with Sam over the last decade, she’s strategic, clever and an elevator of voices of people who ordinarily don’t get one,” Cooper said. “And she’s an influencer par excellence.

“She’ll bring all of that to the role, and she will do the governor general’s role quite differently to the way that anyone else has ever done it.

“She takes very seriously issues around inclusion and social justice and she works very hard to stay very true to her values.”

Mostyn, who will succeed the former senior army officer David Hurley to become Australia’s 28th governor general, started her professional life as an associate in the New South Wales supreme court of appeal.

She has been a board member or chair of some of the country’s most recognisable companies and nonprofits, including Transurban, Virgin Australia, Citibank Australia, Beyond Blue and the AFL, where she was the first female commissioner. She also worked for several Labor ministers, including the former prime minister Paul Keating.

In 2021, Mostyn was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to business, the community and women.

Another gender equality advocate, the businesswoman Wendy McCarthy, who has known Mostyn since she was at university, said the incoming governor general first learned the value of public service through her father’s career.

Mostyn was born into an army family and lived wherever her father’s service took her parents and three younger sisters: from the United States and Canada to Adelaide, Melbourne and then eventually back to Canberra.

McCarthy said Mostyn took that experience and applied it to every aspect of her working life. “She’s also a lifelong learner,” McCarthy said.

“She’s capable of removing the scales from her eyes when she’s got the facts and a lot of people aren’t, they still hang on to past prejudices.

“She does have that capacity, which I think is not only endearing, I think it shows high integrity.”

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While Mostyn’s appointment was welcomed by both sides of politics, the rightwing lobby group Advance was among those that criticised Mostyn’s support for the voice referendum and previous references to Australia Day as “Invasion Day” in now deleted social media posts. Separately, she has also expressed support for a republic.

Some of Mostyn’s contemporaries suggested she wouldn’t waver in her strongly held beliefs and will use her experience and convictions to guide her.

“She certainly doesn’t shy away from things when they’re difficult,” Georgie Dent, the executive director of The Parenthood, said.

“She’s got a really unique depth and breadth of experience. She has done a lot of things and she’s done them really well and for a decent period of time. And I don’t know if we’ve had a governor general with that particular set of experiences.”

The CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service, Prof Cassandra Goldie, described Mostyn as “warm and engaging”, someone who has “a unique ability to work alongside and bring together people across the great diversity of the Australia community”.

The former prime minister Paul Keating, who acted as one of Mostyn’s earliest bosses, said his former senior communications policy adviser was “a distinguished communitarian with a complex range of interests”.

“And with those interests, experience,” he said. “Accordingly, that experience and those interests additionally qualify her beyond her innate ability, values and sense of the world for such an exalted position.”

Cooper said that in her past roles one of Mostyn’s traits was to encourage those she was representing to speak for themselves. “Rather than put herself at the centre of her advocacy, [Mostyn] tries to elevate the voices of the people she’s attempting to speak for,” Cooper said. “And I think she’ll do a very good job of that in this role.”

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