John Howard’s Press Conference Announcing Peter Hollingworth As Governor-General

This is the full text of Prime Minister John Howard’s Press Conference announcing the appointment of Archbishop Peter Hollingworth as the next Governor-General of Australia.

The press conference was held at Parliament House, Canberra.

Transcript of John Howard press conference.

HowardLadies and Gentlemen, I have called this news conference to formally congratulate in person the Governor-General-Designate, Peter Hollingworth, whose appointment on my recommendation has been approved by the Queen. He will take office and be sworn in on the 29th of June. He is by every measure an outstanding Australian and I’m very confident that he will do a first class job.

He is a person who has actively and successfully and compassionately involved himself in the secular life of the nation, as well as being an outstanding participant in the life of his religious denomination.

I congratulate both he and his wife. I know that they are both looking forward to the challenge with great enthusiasm and great energy and he does combine the talents that are needed. He has a wide understanding of Australian society. He’s been a constant advocate of the cause of disadvantaged people in the Australian community. Although his background has been in a religious discipline, he does have a thorough grounding in the Constitutional elements of our nation.

He currently serves as the Chairman of the Council of the Centenary of Federation. He’s a previous Australian of the Year and he has been an adviser to both the current Government on certain issues and also an adviser to the former government on a number of issues and he’s involved himself actively in the social and economic policy debate under both the Hawke and Keating governments and also during the time that my government has been in office. So I think he is, in every way, a person who will fill the role admirably and I wish him well and I believe that his appointment will be widely welcomed and supported within the Australian community.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister does this prove that we can trust politicians to appoint the Head of State?

PRIME MINISTER:

It proves that this appointment is a very good one. As indeed, may I say, was the previous appointment, that is the appointment of the current Governor-General. And it was incidentally an appointment that I supported at the time and I believe that there, as somebody who incidentally Laurie, supports the present system and who didn’t indulge the argument to which you have adverted himself in his manifesto to the people of Bennelong outlining his views on the Republic and the Constitutional Monarchy. The truth is that the present system throws up Australians of great distinction in a way that I don’t think would be achieved with an alternative system and that’s one of the reasons why I support the present system. But I don’t want to re-open that debate. It’s behind us I hope for some time.

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop Hollingworth fell out with Prime Minister Bob Hawke notably ten years ago over his own claims that the then Labor Government had not been doing enough for people in poverty. Do you believe that there’s any possibility of that certain falling out taking place with a man who as you say, has taken a high profile in relation to disadvantage, of falling out with your government?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that was a personal demarche between the two of them. I don’t recall all of the details of it. My recollection is that the criticism came initially from Mr Hawke and was directed at Archbishop Hollingworth. Look I…let me say this, I don’t, I believe that he will do the job very well. I believe he will be his own man, as he should be, and as I have encouraged him to be in the discussions I have had with him. But I also believe that he understands the roles and the responsibilities of the office. That he respects that policy is made and determined by elected governments of the day and there’s a fine but important line between the natural, I think desire of the Australian people to have a defacto head of state, an effective head of state who speaks on a wide range of issues, but by the same token does not get involved in political controversy.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister given that Australia is a secular pluralist society Constitutionally, what sort of message does this send to non Christians particularly, in Australia that we have an Anglican clergyman as our new Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think it sends any different message than the appointment of a self-declared atheist to the position two Governor-General’s ago sent to people of Christian persuasion. You make a valid point that he is an ordained clergyman in the Anglican Church. His immediate predecessor is a devout practicing Catholic and the Governor-General immediately before that was a self-declared atheist. I think it shows that we have eclectic tastes. We are a secular state in Constitutional terms and that’s guaranteed by the Constitution. I thought about all of that but I came to the conclusion that it would be patently absurd to disbar an eminent Australian by reason alone of the fact that he was an ordained minister or priest. And I see it as a job that no person is disqualified from other than the absence of Australian citizenship and good character and sound mind.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can you give us an idea of the timetable when you first had discussions with the Archbishop, when you agreed to make the announcement today and that sort of thing?

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

JOURNALIST:

Why not?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well that only clouds the issue.

JOURNALIST:

Why would that cloud the issue?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it diverts your attention from writing onwards and upwards.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister did the fact that Archbishop Hollingworth at the Constitutional Convention, came as a Republican and left as a Monarchist play any part in your assessment of how he would fulfil his role?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t know that that is the case, or was the case, but the answer is no it didn’t. I took the view in making a decision about who should be approached to fill this job, I took the view that the question of that person’s attitude about the monarchy or the republic should not of itself be a deciding point. Clearly a person who was a passionate Republican and would feel uncomfortable in the job would by himself or herself disqualify them from the job, clearly. But I didn’t think to myself well I can’t possibly approach him because he might be a Republican, I mean that would be patently absurd. 45 percent of the Australian public voted to have a republic in the referendum and it would be quite wrong to allow that to intrude. It’s question of whether the person feels comfortable in serving as the Queen’s representative in Australia.

JOURNALIST:

Have you raised that issue with him Mr Howard?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have discussed a range of issues. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to go into the detail of what we’ve discussed. But we have talked about issues. But I’m quite sure that his view will be, as is mine, that the question of our Constitutional status is a matter for the Australian people.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard going back to the fine line you spoke about between comment on important issues facing the country and policy comments, would you be happy or satisfied if the incoming Governor-General was as forthright in his public remarks on some of those social issues as the outgoing Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the outgoing Governor-General on occasions, to the extent that it has been suggested that he’s been in direct conflict with me, I think on a number of occasions has really been verballed. And I think there are many of the occasions when people have said that there’s been a conflict between us, there hasn’t been. I have in fact known the, I have in fact known the current Governor-General for many years. He lectured me in succession – that is the law of succession not the doctrine of succession under the British Monarchy – the law of succession….

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible).

PRIME MINISTER:

Your words Michelle, not mine. And I think on quite a number of occasions there was a very strenuous, even laboured attempt, to create differences that didn’t exist. Look I will expect Peter Hollingworth to be his own man. He will respect, I am certain, the lines that divide the role of the Governor-General and the democratic prerogatives of the elected government of the day. He understands the Constitution. He understands that the role is, although a very important role, it is nonetheless a role that puts him at the formal apex of our Constitutional structure, but does not invest him with the executive and political power which properly belongs to people who are accountable to the voters and not to the people who gain office according to the processes that have lead to his appointment. Now he understands that. We’ve talked about it and I have no concerns, I have no concerns at all. I am sure he will be the essence of a very Constitutional Governor-General. As indeed, might I say, on most occasions have all of his predecessors.

JOURNALIST:

Did you phone Tim Fischer in Khatmandu to tell him the decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think I’ll pass on that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister you said earlier that you considered Archbishop Hollingworth’s religious background when considering his appointment…

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I considered the question of whether his religious background should be a bar.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, yes.

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t treat his religious background as a reason why he should be appointed. What I said was that I thought to myself will people take exception to the fact that I am recommending someone who’s a clergyman. I thought about that and I came to the conclusion that no reasonable man or woman would do that. And the reason I came to that conclusion is firstly he’s been very heavily involved in the secular life of the country and secondly I think the, both the principle and the practice of this country being a secular community is now so well entrenched. And that some of the old sectarian divides of this country are so far distant in history behind us that I don’t see any reasonable likelihood of that arising. And I thought to myself how perverse it would be that you reached a situation that the only occupation, or background, or vocation that disqualifies you from being Governor-General of Australia is that you may be a priest or a clergyman.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)…his background was a positive attribute for the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I don’t want to, well I mean I think it’s helped mould the man. But I don’t want to, whatever my own personal views may be about religious belief, I have never thought, I have never sought in my present role to inflict them on others. In fact I don’t particularly approve of people who have a ram it down the other fellows throat to religious belief. I think religious belief is a very personal inner thing and is not something that should be flung at others. But I have no doubt that that background has given him, helped mould a person who has a very compassionate view about Australian society, but also a realistic view. I see the work that he did in the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the fact that he has continued to involve himself in work with the government and other parts of society in helping disadvantaged people. I see that as a positive plus because part of the role of the Governor-General is to reach out to some people in the community who may not always feel part of it and I certainly see all of those things as pluses. But I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’ve chosen him because of his religious affiliation but equally I would have thought it quite a grievous state of affairs if on every other count he would qualify, yet I said to myself well I can’t have him because he’s a Bishop, an Archbishop of the Anglican Church. That would be quite ridiculous.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister do you expect that he will resign as Archbishop?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh yes. Oh yes. In the statement that Peter himself has released he makes it plain. I don’t quite know what the precise expression is. What is it? “..to relinquish my ministry as a Bishop for the next five years.”

JOURNALIST:

What about his position as Head of the Centenary of Federation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh he’ll have to resign that Laurie. Yes.

JOURNALIST:

So we won’t have two Governor-Generals speaking in Melbourne?

PRIME MINISTER:

Gee, I see your point. Well he’ll certainly have to relinquish that position and I’ll have to find a replacement for him on the Council.

JOURNALIST:

Did you ask anyone else about your decision like Mrs Howard or any of your close Cabinet colleagues?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’m not going to go into who I took counsel from, except to say that I sought appropriate counsel.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard a leaked document suggests the Government’s proposing to offer GP’s an average payrise of $11,000 a year. How do you think the community will respond to that given the current state of the economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m not going to respond to any alleged leaked document. I think you should just wait and see what’s in the budget.

JOURNALIST:

What about the fact of the leak. It’s from your own department, it’s cabinet-in-confidence for tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting. What’s your reaction to that? And have you called in the police?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I’m reacting appropriately.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m reacting appropriately.

JOURNALIST:

So you’re confirming.

PRIME MINISTER:

I’m reacting appropriately. I’m not confirming anything. That’s an appropriate reaction.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned at all by the leak Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I’m reacting appropriately.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister back on the Governor-General. There has been some suggestion that you’d be looking for a woman. Did you try and….

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I’ve just announced the appointment of an eminent Australian. If you go back and have a look at what I said when I was asked about who the next Governor-General might be I said that I would say nothing other than it would be an eminent Australian and that’s really all I’m going to say about the selection process. There’s just no point in questioning me about the selection process. I gave the whole matter a lot of thought. I believe that the person appointed will do an outstanding job. I believe his appointment will be warmly received in the Australian community and I took appropriate counsel in reaching a decision.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard would you expect the Governor-General to continue Mr Deane’s work for reconciliation?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would expect him to say and think and act in a way that is consistent with what he believes in and also consistent with his respect for the Constitutional responsibilities of his office and the role of the Government. I haven’t read everything he’s said about reconciliation but like most Australians he supports the process of reconciliation.

JOURNALIST:

I think he’s called for sorry.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I haven’t read everything he’s said on that subject. But as you know that’s a matter for the government.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, will he go to England to see the Queen before he takes up the job?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wouldn’t have thought so.

JOURNALIST:

(inaudible)

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think he’ll be going to London between now and the 29th of June, in fact I’m certain he won’t be going to London between now and the 29th of June.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister can you tell us what salary you propose to legislate for the new Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it’s been the practice in the past to set it with some link between it and the salary of the Chief Justice in mind and I will do in relation to that what my predecessor did in relation to the salary of Sir William Deane. No more, no less. I think that’s the reasonable thing to do.

JOURNALIST:

Do you know what that is?

PRIME MINISTER:

Not off hand Michelle. No I don’t.

JOURNALIST:

There’s also some tax free arrangement.

PRIME MINISTER:

The Constitution I think said that it had to be tax free, but don’t worry, in the calculation of it it is always set so that the take-home pay of the relevant worker was about the same as the after-tax income of the Chief Justice so that if there were any change in relation to the tax status then you would have to change that formula.

JOURNALIST:

On the matter of Woodside which is coming out in the next two days. Can you tell us which day it is coming out and secondly you didn’t deny the other day that there were some differences between you and the Treasurer on that matter. Would you care to elaborate?

PRIME MINISTER:

I was intrigued at the reaction of one or two people, not many in this room I don’t think but I think Michael Gordon was the only person who reacted fairly actively. I was making a general proposition on the Neil Mitchell programme that I wouldn’t want a Treasurer who agreed with me on everything and …

JOURNALIST:

So are there differences on Woodside?

PRIME MINISTER:

… but I also went on to say that that comment was not made in reference to Woodside/Shell and there are no significant differences between the Treasurer and I relating to any foreign investment matter. In fact there are no differences that I am aware of in relation to foreign investment policy generally, I was merely making the point that in a government that’s worth its salt treasurers and prime ministers will occasionally have different views on particular subjects and there’s nothing wrong with that and any prime minister or treasurer who tells you otherwise is having you on.

JOURNALIST:

So you are as one on this decision?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are at one on foreign investment policy.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, in terms of this decision, would you … the head of Woodside, Mr Akehurst the other day suggested that there are other parties in the wings, obviously BHP being one. Do you have a view on whether a BHP deal with Woodside would be more in the national interest if you like than the current proposal on offer from Shell?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I don’t think I should comment on that with the Treasurer’s decision to be made sometime in the not too distant future.

JOURNALIST:

But it would make the big Australian even bigger would it not if the …?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I am not going to comment on any, in a qualitative way or a judgmental way in any aspect of that. The Treasurer has a decision to make and he will take it in accordance with the law which requires him to take the national interest into account and I am very confident that he will do that.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would you be concerned about the symbolism if Woodside was flogged off to Shell on the eve of Anzac Day or on Anzac Day?

PRIME MINISTER:

We’ll take the right decision in the national interest.

JOURNALIST:

Back to matters secular Prime Minister …?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the MCG …

PRIME MINISTER:

I didn’t know resource development was so spiritual.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think the refurbishment of the MCG is an appropriate destination for federal funds?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think a reasonable Commonwealth subvention towards the Commonwealth Games is totally justified. Totally justified. I don’t myself have a fixed view about how large that subvention should be but I certainly think that we should make a contribution, just as we made a contribution to the Olympic Games. I mean we made a contribution to the Commonwealth Games in earlier years, I mean it’s just not realistic to think that we can host the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in what is it, 2006 without putting quite a bit of money into it. I mean that’s just ridiculous. And quite properly it would be seen as not doing for the city of Melbourne what the Commonwealth was willing to do for the city of Sydney in relation to the Olympic Games. Even allowing for the fact that we won’t be putting anywhere near as much into the Commonwealth Games as the Olympic Games.

JOURNALIST:

To that end do are you concerned about the prospect of heritage listing for the MCG?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well now you’re getting into the sort of the fine detail of things that I don’t really want to wander into. I mean the one thing I would say very passionately about the MCG is that I think it’s the greatest sporting arena in Australia by far. And I hope that nothing ever happens to it that diminishes or reduces that status.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard just back to Woodside, for a moment. You did say following a couple of questions that you and the Treasurer are at one.

PRIME MINISTER:

On foreign policy…we are on foreign policy too. On foreign investment policy. We talk about foreign policy regularly.

JOURNALIST:

It’s obvious that Woodside is a foreign investment issue, are you at one on Woodside?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look I am not going to talk about the individual case because the Treasurer is making a decision and he has a certain statutory responsibility and I have to choose my words carefully because of that lest it be thought that I was seeking in some way to interfere with his untrammelled legal responsibility. Because disappointed supplicants have been known to take Treasurers to court on these matters. So I am staying right out of public comment as to what he should or should not do in relation to that particular matter because it is unwise of me to do otherwise. But as far as foreign investment policy generally is concerned, I can’t think of any occasion where the Treasurer and I have had any disagreement of any consequence. We both take the view that foreign investment is very valuable to this country and has brought billions of dollars of investment, has helped boost our living standards and has generated millions of jobs over the years that we’ve been receiving it in large measure. That’s certainly since the end of World War II and before.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Howard can you tell us a bit about your personal relationship with Bishop Hollingworth, I mean has it developed …?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I got to know him a little when we were in Opposition. He did participate as I recall it in a seminar on employment which was part of the Liberal Party’s National Convention in Sydney in 1992, along with Professor Sloane and a number of others. I had a few discussions with him. But I got to know him a little better when I became Prime Minister. I did appoint him to a Youth Homelessness Taskforce which I established within a few weeks of becoming prime minister and I was impressed with the work that he did on that. But I had read of him and I had heard him speak and I always thought that he brought a very balanced view. He was faithful to his religious convictions, but he was never overly sanctimonious and that seemed to me to be a fairly pleasing combination. So then I got to know him a little better in relation to his work on that and then I appointed him along with Archbishop Pell as one of the two, how shall I put it, ecclesiastical spokesmen at the Constitutional Convention. And then later on I decided, I appointed him to the Council of the Centenary of Federation as an ordinary member and when Dick Smith went he became the chairman. And I’ve seen quite a bit of him since because of that role and he attended a very pleasant gathering I had with the premiers on the eve of the 1st of January in Sydney. I mean I think he’s an intelligent man with a great deal of style, he’s got a good sense of humour, he will mix well with Australians and I think he will be warmly received.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister, would the national attitude, if I can call it that, would that have allowed you to appoint a former politician, no matter the merits of that candidate?

PRIME MINISTER:

Oh I think it would have yes. I felt it was more appropriate to appoint Peter Hollingworth. I never, I never took the view that, I mean I think I was a little critical of Hayden’s appointment when I was Opposition Leader, I have to confess but if I remember rightly I think I, it’s rather ironic in the light of the announcement I’ve made today, I think I said that the main reason I objected at the time to Bill Hayden’s appointment was that he was, I thought he was a stringent critic of the monarchy, of the institution. And I said it was a bit like making an atheist the Archbishop of Canterbury, I think was the …

JOURNALIST:

Do you still believe that is his view?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think he’s changed his view. I mean he may, he may have changed his view on a number of things, I don’t know. But he turned out, he was a good Governor-General. As a general principle I think there is always advantage in having somebody other than a person who’s identified with, solidly with one side of politics. I think there’s always advantage in that. But I have to acknowledge that the four former politician Governors-General that we have had, that is Australian politicians, that is McKell, Hasluck, Hayden and Casey – two from each side – have all done a pretty good job. And have all conducted themselves without any visible sign of partisanship. Indeed history records that Bill McKell earned the wrath of many in the Labor Party because he granted Menzies a double dissolution in 1951. And I think it’s also the case that Lord Casey probably angered a few people in the Liberal Party because of the role that he played in the days immediately following Harold Holt’s disappearance. So the history, indeed the history of Governors-General in this country has been a pretty happy one. I know there are some in the Labor Party who would say there was one soaring exception to that but I won’t revive that issue. But generally I think the process has worked quite well.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister have you spoken to Mr Beazley about Archbishop Hollingworth’s appointment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I rang Mr Beazley before the announcement was made to inform him. I mean he can speak for himself.

JOURNALIST:

But you didn’t consult him about this did you?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I didn’t Laurie I followed the procedure that’s been followed in the past. No I didn’t. But he can speak for himself.

JOURNALIST:

Did he give an immediate reaction to the news?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well look I really think in fairness to him and I do want to be fair to him on this issue as indeed in all issues, objective and fair, I think it would be nice if you asked him what he thought.

JOURNALIST:

As a practising Anglican he’d be pretty chuffed wouldn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t think that really comes into it.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister Wilson Tuckey this morning upset the Greens, do you agree with him that [inaudible] should be taking logs out of national parks to protect the forests?

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven’t seen the transcript of that interview and I was in the air travelling from Adelaide when it was taking place and I’ve been preoccupied on a few other things since. However, my understanding is that he was arguing that on the basis of science that the process aided regrowth of old growth forests and therefore any reasonable environmentalist should not object. Now that’s my understanding but I can’t really say anymore until I’ve had a look at the transcript.

I think that’s about enough, isn’t it?

Thank you.

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