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Tony Abbott says top soldier Peter Cosgrove top pick for leadership

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Mark Kenny, Jonathan Swan

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Peter Cosgrove next Governor-General

Former Defence Force Chief General Peter Cosgrove will be Australia's next Governor-General, saying he wants to 'shed light, not generate heat.'

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Tony Abbott says appointing Australia's former top soldier as governor-general was a case of the best person for the job and installing someone who could deliver leadership beyond politics.

Announcing the widely foreshadowed selection of Peter Cosgrove, Mr Abbott said he could not think of a better person to undertake the mostly ceremonial role.

General Cosgrove will replace the current Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, when her extended term ends in March. He will be installed at a parliamentary investiture ceremony likely to be scheduled for the final sitting day of that month, March 28.

Peter Cosgrove has been given the backing of Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Peter Cosgrove has been given the backing of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

It is expected General Cosgrove will visit Buckingham Palace for talks with Queen Elizabeth II, as is customary for new appointees in the role, on February 19.

Asked about the Buckingham Palace visit, General Cosgrove said he understood ''there had been a conversation'' about the February 19 dinner, but the date was still ''indicative''.

The five-year appointment comes with a fixed, but yet to be legislated, salary above $400,000 a year. The government has confirmed General Cosgrove's final remuneration package will be adjusted to ensure his current military pension is included, or the pension forfeited while he remains in office.

''He has given service of the very highest order to our country,'' Mr Abbott said in Canberra. ''I am confident that in this new role he will continue to deliver, to a grateful nation, leadership beyond politics. I can't think of a better way to start the year, and I can't think of a better person to do this very important job.''

Mr Abbott is strongly monarchist in preference, and his comments reflect his desire to see the role of the Queens' representative maintained in perpetuity, but with a strongly Australian flavour.

Refusing to be drawn into controversies such as his private views on the republic, or on the hot topic of marriage equality, General Cosgrove described himself simply as ''a very staunch Australian''.

Signalling an aversion to campaigning, he said he understood clearly the division of responsibilities between occupants of elected office and those appointed to neutral roles.

''You're no longer a private citizen in the office of governor-general, and I think your responsibility is to shine light but not to generate heat,'' he said. ''I think you've got to listen a lot and take in everything you see, but you're not a participant in the political process. It will get my total commitment, all the energy I've got, good humour, and with an unfailing optimism that this is a great nation which will only get better.''

General Cosgrove's appointment has ended hopes of some Australians to follow up the historic appointment of the nation's first female governor-general with either another woman, or another first, such as the first indigenous appointment to the role.

But the man who promoted the then General Cosgrove to the top military rank as Chief of Defence Force, former Liberal prime minister John Howard, described his appointment as G-G as ''wonderful''.

with Jonathan Swan

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