The Governor-General's sin is this: while Archbishop
of Brisbane, he left a man, whom he had every reason
to suspect to be a paedophile, in a position where that
man might potentially commit acts of paeophilia. In
other words, in what the Board of Enquiry led by Peter
Callaghan QC determined to be a serious error of judgment,
he left someone in a position where that person could
(and probably would) commit seriously bad acts against
children. That is bad, but it is the single act for
which he stands condemned. He did not participate in
or assist acts of paedophilia. He made one (albeit serious)
error of judgment.
This is to be stacked against a life-time of good
work. Whatever one might say about Dr
Peter Hollingworth's reputation for social climbing
and what some have termed "naked ambition",
he is a man who throughout life has dedicated himself
to the alleviation of human suffering. His record demonstrates
that beyond reproach.
Is the one great error enough to unbalance the life-time
of great work, of good judgment?
Many comparisons have been made between the current
Governor-General and his predecessor. Sir William Deane
seems (with apologies to Messrs Gilbert & Sullivan)
to be the very model of a modern Governor-General while
Dr Hollingworth is made a pariah. This comparison, and
the idea that Sir William Deane is a role-model for
vice-regal rectitude are, frankly, ridiculous.
Dr Hollingworth has, in the job, been exactly what
a viceroy ought to be: aloof from public debate so that,
if the occasion arises, he is not seen to be in favour
of one side or the other. He attends to his ceremonial
duties and, as he goes about his daily life, remains
closely concerned with his life's work: serving God
On the other hand, Sir William immersed himself in
political issues of the day, most notably those concerning
Indigenous rights. His warm and cuddly image is a function
of the fact that people who write opinion pieces in
the newspapers and dine at Circular Quay liked what
he had to say. That is not to say that Sir William was
not well motivated in his conduct of the office, it
is simply to say that he was far more dangerous to the
office in a constitutional sense than Dr Hollingworth
is ever likely to be. Sir William has changed the culture
of the country to the point where it is acceptable for
the Governor-General to be (ever so slightly) at political
odds with the government of the day.
Many now take the view that, at a political level,
Hollingworth is unsustainable and ought to go but that
is exactly why he ought to stay. The Governor-General's
position ought not to be held hostage to political whims.
It is meant to be an office beyond politics. The quickest
way to change that is to yield when the going gets tough.
If there were good reason to doubt his ability to do
the job that would be one thing but one error (particularly
one unrelated to his vice-regal duties) is not enough
to found that view.
Neither is it sufficient to say that once the Opposition
states that it lacks faith in the Governor-General that
the Governor-General ought to go. To accept that view
is to give the Opposition an unfettered right of veto
over the appointment of the Governor-General and there
is simply no constitutional basis for that.
In any event, this issue is a political life-line
for the Federal Opposition rather than the subject of
a faithfully held view.
In the law, when a judge is accused of bias he steps
down if there is some real reason to suspect bias -
not merely because of an accusation of it. Otherwise
he is not only entitled but duty bound to act. I suggest
that the same is true of the Governor-General. A mere
allegation of impropriety or unfitness cannot be allowed
to be enough to remove him from office. The unfitness
must be proven otherwise he should not only be allowed
to stay, but feel duty-bound to do so.
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