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There is a republican agenda behind the persecution of Peter Hollingworth

By Graham Young - posted Tuesday, 15 January 2002


The persecution of former Anglican Archbishop, and now Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth is the best argument against an elected President that I can find.

We are told that an elected president will be better able to unite the nation than an appointed President or Governor-General. This assumes that the holder of the office will be uncontested in their majesty. If the current storm can be blown up around a routine appointment like Hollingworth, the term of an elected President would potentially be even more cyclonic.

Why has an incident of paedophilia at an Anglican school in Toowoomba brought the Governor-Generalship into question? Regrettably, I think the answer is because it suits some people’s republican agenda. That is not to impugn the motives of all critics of the G-G in his former role, nor to diminish the suffering of those victims of the teacher at Toowoomba Preparatory School. It is also not to deny that there is some vicious internal politics being played in the Queensland branch of the Anglican Church. Rather it is to ask why this issue has become national in the way it has.

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Regrettably, paedophilia is a fact of life in and out of our schools. In Queensland one former Cabinet Minister and one former Opposition leader have served, or are serving, time in jail for this crime. The Toowoomba Prep incident occurred in a private school. The CEO of the organisation running that school, Peter Hollingworth, is now being asked to resign from a subsequent position because of something that happened in his previous position.

Just yesterday a state school principal was convicted of paedophilia. When was the last time that the resignation of any state Education Minister or Premier was demanded because of an incident? Or, more tellingly, that they resign from a job they took on after the event? Never, that I know of. So what is really at work here?

From the beginning, Hollingworth’s appointment has been met by hysteria. One major criticism has been that his appointment violates the separation between Church and State. This is a nonsense argument. The separation between Church and State is an American concept and refers to the establishment of any particular religion as the official religion. From at least the time that Henry VIII proclaimed himself head of the church in England there has been no such separation in the UK, and as a consequence no such separation in Australia, which takes its form of government from Britain. Queen Elizabeth is both Queen of Australia and Head of the Church of England, making a clergyman uniquely apt as her representative.

But even in the US where the doctrine originates it is no bar to clergymen taking executive office. Ordained Baptist minister Jesse Jackson has run twice for the Democratic nomination and no-one has ever suggested he was unsuitable merely because he was ordained. Here, Brian Howe and John Woodley are two recent examples of people who have combined religious ordination with political election. There are also vice-regal precedents. Where was the opposition to Sir Douglas Nichols’ appointment as Governor of South Australia?

A minute’s reflection shows that to bar someone from the highest office in the land merely because they are an ordained minister of the Christian religion is tantamount to discriminating against all people of that religion. All Christians minister to each other – a Christian minister or priest is just one who does this on a more full-time and committed basis. So what if the G-G sets up a room in Yarralumla where he can pray? Is this really any different from a more secular Governor-General fitting a room out as a gymnasium, or a music room? Are we so narrow as to believe there is a qualitative difference in this respect between exercising the spirit, the mind or the body?

Other, less defensible criticism of Hollingworth has centred around the assumption that he will not speak out like Sir William Deane did. Well, I for one, hope he doesn’t. While I agree with most things that Bill Deane said, I rarely agreed with his right to say them while he was Governor-General.

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In our system the role of Governor-General is basically one of referee. It is no more permissible for the G-G to express a personal opinion than it is for the square leg umpire to run a player out. But this criticism reveals the deeper agenda. Those people who laud Deane for his outspokenness invariably do so because they agree with his point of view. They see him as having advanced their vision of what Australia ought to be. Conversely their problem with Hollingworth is that they think he either opposes their vision, or will not promote it. Next time someone expounds the view that the Governor-General ought to act in opposition to the government, test out their seriousness. Ask them their view of John Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam Government.

But Hollingworth has committed an even more grievous sin. Many of Hollingworth’s critics, believe that after Bill Deane there should have been no more Governors – the era of Presidents should have arrived. Hollingworth is a usurper of the anticipated succession. He is John Howard’s trophy appointment.

Until or unless Peter Hollingworth is personally charged with being at fault in the events in Toowoomba he is no more unsuitable as a Governor-General than any other CEO of an organisation that has allowed a wrong to occur. It is a measure of the immaturity of our national debate that criticism of him has run the way that it has at such a senior level. Christmas is the time of love and forgiveness. Unfashionable and politically incorrect as it might be to acknowledge Christian practice, it is time to embrace the season, accept that the Monarchists have for the moment won the debate and that John Howard has done as the Constitution requires, and appointed a suitable person as Governor-General. Using this unfortunate incident as a cover for trying to destabilise the office of Governor-General discredits all republicans, including those of us who want no part of it.

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About the Author

Graham Young is chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion. He is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress, an Australian think tank based in Brisbane, and the publisher of On Line Opinion.

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