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The Hollingworth saga demonstrates a terrible abuse of power

By David Flint - posted Thursday, 28 February 2002

In two conversations with shopkeepers I have made an appalling discovery. They both thought the Governor-General was himself accused of the sexual abuse of minors! These are people who do not read newspapers closely, or at all. Leading busy lives, they only glance at the evening TV news. Politics interests them little, except when something directly affects them. And when Dr Hollingworth's true position was explained, they were appalled too. Several of my colleagues have had exactly the same experience. This has been aided to a great degree by shock reports repeating the same allegations with only the most cursory reference to the Governor-General’s replies.

Such an unworthy and biased campaign is hardly the basis for governing the country or changing our constitution.

As John Howard said (21 February 2002), it would be wrong for a Prime Minister to advise The Queen to remove a Governor-General "capriciously, unreasonably and unjustly". Indeed it is unlikely that The Queen would accept that advice without asking questions, and ensuring that the solution is just and fair.


The republican movement has opportunistically claimed that this could never have arisen under a republic. This ignores the fact that impeachment proceedings, or the threat of them, can destabilise republican governments for long periods. The Nixon and Clinton presidencies are examples. Our system is much more flexible. Nor do republics necessarily ensure that a person with a flawed background will not be elected. Recall, for example, that the US authorities would not allow the Austrian President, Kurt Waldheim, to enter the US because they were convinced he was a Nazi war criminal, something not uncovered in his election campaign!

Moreover, Dr Hollingworth’s appointment was announced well before he actually took office. Both during that period, and before as Archbishop of Brisbane, it was open to his critics to have made public the allegations which have only recently surfaced.

There is an argument that because the allegations are being repeated over and over, the office of Governor-General has been damaged and therefore he should resign, even if he has done nothing wrong. That this is made by many of those engaged in regurgitating the allegations demonstrates the dangerous precedent that this could create.

The principal current allegation is that on the ABC programme Australian Story (18 February, 2002) he suggested that sexual relations between a priest and a girl did not constitute sexual abuse. A careful reading of his reply - as broadcast - indicates that he did nothing of the sort. He was saying their later relationship in adult life was not sexual abuse (a proposition which is itself debatable – but that is another issue). His statement of 20 February he puts his strong view that the original abuse could never be condoned.

On the Sunday programme on Channel 9, 24 February 2002, viewers had been feverishly promised fresh allegations. But the programme essentially regurgitated the same stories, and a disputed conversation with a woman already reported in The Courier Mail. (The principal point of this was the allegations that Dr Hollingworth had suggested that men "are only human after all". He is also said to have asked the woman whether she was blonde at the time.)

The programme made much of the appointment of a former Cathedral Precentor, Ross McCauley, to the diocesan sexual abuse committee, despite an allegation of sexual abuse made against him. But this had been referred by a meeting of bishops to a panel of experts. An independent investigator reported that the allegations could not be verified, no witnesses could be found and the complainant appeared confused, making contradictory statements. In addition, McCauley strongly denied the allegations. Although Dr Hollingworth’s critics may not understand this, the presumption of innocence still has some currency in this country.


There was a further complaint against McCauley, one by an adult male chorister.

But this was made only after their joint business venture had failed! The allegation was not corroborated, so the Archbishop concluded, quite reasonably, that there was insufficient evidence to dismiss McCauley. Surely Sunday knows something about unfair dismissal – they do enough stories on it! The programme tried to maintain an air of suspense about some letter to the Archbishop from the committee. When finally the viewers – those who were left – were actually shown an extracts, it was a very damp squid indeed.

We have now seen a bizarre attempt to implicate the Prime Minister’s wife, portraying her as some latter day Anglo-Catholic Marie Antoinette. The most cursory inquiry would have established that the story that Mrs Howard and Dr Hollingworth belong to the same "High Church" faction has absolutely no foundation. While some may praise the Opposition Leader for his "restraint" in publicly withdrawing support from the Governor-General, this has only ensured that he has lost any further influence on the outcome.

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About the Author

David Flint is a former chairman of the Australian Press Council and the Australian Broadcasting Authority, is author of The Twilight of the Elites, and Malice in Media Land, published by Freedom Publishing. His latest monograph is Her Majesty at 80: Impeccable Service in an Indispensable Office, Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, Sydney, 2006

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