Archbishop Peter Hollingworth’s Media Conference On His Appointment As Governor-General

This is the transcript of a Media Conference given by The Most Reverend Peter Hollingworth AO, OBE, Archbishop of Brisbane.

It was held at St. Martin’s House, Brisbane, the day after the announcement of his appointment as the next Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Archbishop Peter Hollingworth’s media conference.

HollingworthLadies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for coming to St Martin’s House this morning. It is already clear that you will have a number of questions that you will wish to put to the governor-general designate, some of which I will be able to clarify and some of which I will, of course not be able to comment upon.

As I have said earlier, I am deeply honoured to be asked to serve the Australian people in this way and I will serve humbly, to the very best of my ability as Australia’s 23rd governor-general.

Over the past 100 years, each of my predecessors has put their own distinctive stamp upon the role and more especially the last 7, who have been born in Australia.

I want to express my appreciation of the work of Sir William Deane, who has brought to the office a great sense of compassion, humility and quiet dignity. I believe that each of us would agree that the most important and the most difficult task for a modern governor-general is, in the words of Sir Zelman Cowen, to help interpret the nation to itself.

There can be no more important task, especially in this year of the Centenary of Federation for us to understand our past history, to trace the journey over the past 100 years of nationhood and then to ask the question persistently, “What kind of a society are we seeking to build here in Australia in the 21st century and beyond?” For I believe we can have great confidence in the future.

As you will appreciate, I am someone who has had the opportunity to express views on a range of subjects over the past forty years. This year is also the 40th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood and over that time I have been privileged to serve in a wide range of social situations and to have built relationships and friendships right across the whole social and political spectrum of Australian life. I feel deeply privileged to have had that opportunity and in many ways it seems that all those events have equipped me for the task that lies ahead.

From the earliest days as a priest serving in a tough, working class, inner city parish, to 25 years with the Brotherhood of St Laurence in social service advocacy and research and then finally to become Archbishop of Brisbane for the past 11 years. Both Ann and I are very excited and challenged at what lies ahead of us. Our hardest task will be to conclude ministry here in Brisbane and Queensland where we have come to love the people and enjoy much of what Queensland has to offer.

It has also been the toughest challenge of my life and I believe that many of those difficulties have been surmounted and I will be able to leave the Diocese of Brisbane in good hands and ready to take the next important step in its life and development.

One of the other really important aspects of life here that I have valued is the very close friendship and ecumenical co-operation that I have enjoyed with the mainstream churches and their leaders.

I am a committed Anglican and I am also a committed ecumenist. I believe deeply in the importance of inter-faith dialogue with all the great religions of the world. Hardest of all is that I will have to set aside for the next 5 years my role and function as a diocesan bishop in order to ensure that I will be in a position to serve all the people of Australia. I shall of course be a bishop for life, because that is the nature of Holy Orders but I will not be able to exercise that function in a public way while I am governor-general and I am quite clear about that.

Over these past 40 years of ministry, I have worked very closely with all sides of politics and I would count as friends many leading politicians in all the major parties. I have been enormously encouraged by the generous comments of welcome from Australia’s political leaders.

In my earlier role as an advocate for the poor, it has been essential to be involved in the political process and to argue the case for sound policies to assist the disadvantaged and the excluded. The office of the governor-general is of course outside of the political process and there are clear lines of demarcation in the separation of powers which I believe I understand and I will honour and respect them in the interests of good governance.

Out of the wide range of experiences that I have had at all levels of national life, I have written and spoken many things, sometimes accurately reported and sometimes not. The important things that I have said and done are on the public record and are to be found in the three books that I have written on poverty and in seven years of a weekly column with the Courier Mail some of which are included in my fourth publication, Public Thoughts of an Archbishop.

If you care to read my Presidential address to the Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane over the past eleven years, you will also get a clear indication of my views on a range of social and political topics. I hope you will take them in the context in which they were written. They are there for all to read, I stand by what I have written and after today I will not be saying anything more in a public way in areas which may, in other circumstances, have generated a degree of controversy in some quarters.

With all the difficulties that are involved in the closure of a phase of one’s life and ministry, both of us feel ready to take on a new challenge. At the age of 66, this will no doubt be my last public appointment and I look forward to it with great relish in the belief that I will be given the strength to do the job to the best of my abilities.

When I first arrived here, I did an in-depth interview with a highly respected senior journalist and he titled his article “A Man for all People”. I may not always have deserved that title but that encapsulates what I will try to be as your governor general over the next five years.

I shall now take any questions that you may wish to ask. Could you please first tell me your name and your organisation before you formulate your question.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop, Emma Griffith from ABC TV news. Would you prefer to be going to Canberra as President?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, that’s an interesting question that you can reflect upon, isn’t it? I’m going to Canberra as governor-general. I’m very proud of the office and I’m very proud to be able to make my contribution. What the future holds for this nation is in the hands of the Australian people, and I’ve always held that view.

JOURNALIST:

John Taylor from the ABC radio’s The World Today : How would your term in office as governor-general be different from that of Sir William Deane?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, I really can’t answer that because I’ve not yet had a chance to meet with Sir William and Lady Deane – we hope to do that in early May – and to go through what has to be done, what are the obligations and responsibilities. I think that there is some area where one has room to choose and decide on where they want to focus their energies. I can’t really comment about it except to say that I’ll be looking at it very closely and taking advice.

JOURNALIST:

Would you have an agenda, though, that you’ll be pursuing in your term in office?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I don’t think that governors-general have agendas. I think that our task, as I’ve said, and in the words of Sir Zelman Cowen, is to reflect back to the people where they’re at. And I think that moving around among people, listening closely, will help me gain a good perspective on that. And that’s the only agenda that I can adopt, the people’s agenda.

JOURNALIST:

David Bush, ABC Radio. Sir William has been a conscience to the nation. He has chosen, through the issues and activities of his governor-generalship, to really bring to the fore, in a non-political way, key social issues like reconciliation. What values or real concerns of national interest do you bring to this, that you hope your governor generalship will heighten for public awareness and public activity?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, that’s a challenging question for me because, as I’ve said before and as you know, I have a very wide range of interests. And the difficulty will be, actually to be able to set the priorities and determine what is needed, particularly over these next five years. And, if you don’t mind, I’d prefer that I don’t single out any particular things because you know what I’m interested in, you know that I’ve committed to them all. I’ve really got to make some hard decisions.

JOURNALIST:

It appeared from your comments, though, you feel a bit of constraint that now as this is your last public press conference, your issues stand on the record but you can’t advocate in that way now. How will you, or what passions or values are going to drive the way you’ll interpret the nation? I think people have a right to hear as you begin this term what are the kind of passions and values that are central to your hope of representing the nation to itself?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

You’d understand that I’m deeply committed to a world which is just and sustainable and where there’s maximum participation for all people where they truly feel empowered and believe that they can shape their own lives and contribute to the good of society. I mean, those are the social values. They obviously come out of the Judeo-Christian tradition. They are shared by all people, of all political persuasions. I think my job is to keep those things up before people, up before public attention and to make sure that we all work together in a common cause.

JOURNALIST:

Mike D’arcy from Channel Seven. There has been said on radio this morning that it was a bit of a blunder by John Howard putting a member of the Clergy in as Head of State in Australia. Do you think that there has been a mistake that may cause controversy throughout your appointment?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, I think..

JOURNALIST:

[Inaudible].. that the appointment was..

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Yes, I did and I know he did too, and we had some considerable discussion about it. I’m not going to divulge what the nature of that discussion was. But I have to be, first of all, satisfied in my own mind and conscience that I could exercise this role, that I could do it on behalf of all people and that people would know and trust me as someone who would, in a sense, have the responsibility of upholding the values of national life. I believe I can do that. I believe that everything I’ve done in the last 40 years has, in one sense, prepared me for that. The fact that I’m a member of the Clergy, well, why should the office of the Clergy be the one, single, professional group barred from the highest office of the land. I mean, if one were looking for examples of discrimination you could look at it that way. So I was able to respond, I think, without hesitation and without any doubt that I could do it and that I could be governor-general for all Australians.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, but you also said that you are also Bishop for life, so I mean the separation between the State and the Clergy and [inaudible]?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Oh yes, this is how we get down to the point about the separation of Church and State. This happened 200 years ago. I mean, that’s the basis of all modern democracies. That matter was settled in the 18th Century. That matter was settled here, in this country, right from the very outset of its settlement. And, as I say, that’s the nature of the modern democracy. The Churches and other religious groups should – must – play their role as active participants in the life of society, sometimes as critical participants, and they’re not to be sidelined as sometimes has happened. But the fact is, we are a secular State and the founders of the Constitution were clear about that. They made a clear statement about the freedom of the practice of religion. They made a clear statement, in the preamble, that this nation was to be governed under the providence and the blessing of Almighty God. But for the rest, they were silent and the Churches were to have no special place in the civil order, and I believe that’s right.

JOURNALIST:

So you’ll be putting your religion in mothballs?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

No, I will not. There are thousands upon thousands of faithful religious people all around this nation who quietly, in their daily life, live their faith, and that’s what I’ll be doing. I will not be able to talk about it quite such an overt way except in particular circumstances with particular groups. But I will be doing what all other faithful Christian lay people are expected to do every day of their lives.

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop, Cathy Border from Channel 10 : When are you going to meet with Sir William to discuss things with him and also the Queen, are there plans for you to meet with her?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

It’s early in May. We’ve just got to sort out the details because, of course, Victoria has its own big Centenary celebrations, festivities, during that first week in May. But it will probably be the first or the second week in May. We hope to have some time with them. As far as a visit to the Queen is concerned, that is not something that we’ve had any discussion about at this stage. It would be my sincere hope that we would be able to do that before Her Majesty came out to preside over CHOGM in October. But as to when that would be will be dependent upon my timetable and it will be dependent upon the timetable of the Palace.

JOURNALIST:

Maggie Helass, from Eureka Street. Father Walter from England was an Anglican priest who became the prime minister of Vanuatu. He asked the permission of his Bishop to give up his ministy. Whose permission will you ask?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, I am a Bishop so that’s a bit of a problem as to who I might consult. I think the answer to that one, Maggie, is that it is my choice as a Bishop as to when I determine when I conclude my pastoral charge. As you’d appreciate that all these matters have had to be kept in complete secret. It’s a matter of some sadness to me that I could not speak with my own Diocesan Council last Thursday night. The matter still was very much a matter of secrecy. I intend to meet with my Diocesan Council as soon as I can reconvene them and I will be informing them of what I intend to do. Fairly clearly, I have a Synod over which I have to preside. That will be my last Synod and at the end of that Synod there will be a service at which I will lay out my pastoral staff on the altar for the last time. That decision is mine and I will take it willingly and within the week I will be installed as the 23rd governor-general, on the 29th of June, which you might be interested to know also happens to be St Peter’s Day.

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop, John Taylor from the ABC’s The World Today : You’ve said that you won’t be putting your Anglican faith into mothballs. Is that the same as your belief in a minimalist republic?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I don’t think you can actually typecast what my view is on the republic. You understand that we had a very lively debate during the Constitutional Convention. I valued that debate and I learnt a very great deal over those two weeks. I have to say, that’s been one of the most important experiences that I’ve had. I concluded at the end that I could not, in conscience, vote wholeheartedly for what was in front of us and so I abstained. And I believe, first of all, that I should have abstained because it was not our job, as a Convention, to tell the Australian people what form of government it should have. I believe if you’re going to be a serious democrat you’ve got to leave that matter to the people and the ballot box. And, at this stage, I am very happy with the present arrangements. I believe they work well. They’ve been proven over 100 years. And the one thing I am clearly on record about is that you make changes when you are confident that what you have in front of you will be better than what you’ve had.

JOURNALIST:

(Cathy Border) But are you accepting that a job that you ultimately think won’t exist in Australia?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I am accepting a job which is asking me to serve the Australian people for five years and that’s what will happen. The Leader of the Opposition has made that clear and I am very grateful about that. What happens after that is in the hands of the people.

JOURNALIST:

Paul Osborne from AAP. What priority should reconciliation of black and white people have during your term?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well I don’t know about during my term Paul because whoever’s governor-general and whoever’s in government that is one of the critical issues that we as a nation have to deal with and settle. I think we’ve come a very long way in these past ten years and the reconciliation process, this phase of it has concluded and I would want to express my appreciation to all those who have worked so hard to achieve what has been achieved to this date. Very much of what now has to happen, and I’ve said before, has to take place at the grassroots level. True reconciliation comes about when people get to know people and trust one another as friends, and hear what they’re saying and seek to respond in an appropriate way. I think there’s a great deal of goodwill around the place and the outcome of the process has brought us a long way forward. And we will continue to do it.

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop, Tony Stephens from the Sydney Morning Herald. Do you have any regrets at all at being less well placed to raise matters of social and moral issues?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

That will be a great discipline and very considerable challenge for me, am I well placed?

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well yes I don’t think that for me that is a great issue. What I have said and what I believe is well known.

JOURNALIST:

They change though don’t they, social and moral issues?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Do they? I don’t know that moral issues change.

JOURNALIST:

Okay. Social issues?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Social issues change in their emphasis yes they do. And they’ve changed in the forty years in which I’ve been in ministry. Some of them we’ve been able to deal with I’m thankful to say. Some of which are hardy annuals and continue to be around. Some change in their emphasis. I think it’s for others. Quite frankly over forty years, I’ve probably run my race in that area and in a way at another level, I hope to be able to uphold those important initiatives and values by quietly working behind the scenes and encouraging people of goodwill.

JOURNALIST:

Mike D’arcy from Channel 7 again. Politically would you regard yourself as being conservative? Someone who sees eye-to-eye with the current prime minister John Howard?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

You can imagine I’m not going to answer that question, can’t you?

JOURNALIST:

Well, would you regard yourself then as conservative?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Let me say I avoid labelling other people and I don’t like other people labelling me. I think it’s true to say that I take a range of different stances, some people might call some of them conservative, some people might call some of them radical. Maybe I’m a radical/conservative, I am not sure. But I don’t think that labelling helps us much. I would really like to regard myself as an ordinary kind of person who’s been called to do a very big job. I will seek all the guidance and support and strength that I can get and I’ll do it to the best of my abilities.

JOURNALIST:

Mike D’arcy. Would you be regarded as a conservative within the Anglican Church? I think you oppose women becoming Bishops for a start?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

That’s not correct. I am in favour of women being consecrated as bishops. And I would like to put the record straight also by saying that I moved the motion to enable the ordination of women to the priesthood in the General Synod in Sydney. And I remain committed to that because I believe that the highest office of the Church ought to be open to men and women regardless of gender. There are other issues that have to be addressed in the life of the Church and there’s a question between a principle and when you apply that principle and what is going to be the most I suppose helpful outcome really.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think that you might be the last governor-general?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I can only say that I am honoured to be the next one.

JOURNALIST:

And how should we address you after June 29? Your Excellency, Your Grace or ..?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well it’s not Your Grace. The technical title is Your Excellency or Your Excellencies. I am pleased to say that that title is for one’s spouse as well. I imagine what will happen is I’ll be described as the governor-general of Australia, Peter Hollingworth.

JOURNALIST:

It is the first time a Bishop or a cleric has been appointed to the office. What particular gifts or skills has your Episcopal and priestly ministry given you that you take to this job? You consciously bring skills and gifts from ministry to this office. Could you identify for us two or three of the key things that you think that has given you. And secondly, how will you personally maintain that sense of vocational or call before God while doing this national job which you’ve described as having some mollifying or modifying elements to the way in which you live out you vocation please? That’s a two-pronged question.

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

The first question is, it is a precedent here in Australia, it is not a precedent elsewhere. For example Archbishop Sir Paul Reeves was indeed the governor-general of New Zealand and he served with great distinction and he was able to resolve that matter very effectively. I certainly intend to talk to Paul Reeves to gain some advice from him. It’s also true of course that some of our states have had state governors who have been ordained clergy. And one of whom is a close friend of mine and I can talk with him as well. I believe it can be worked out. I think your second question is the critical part and that is to do with one’s soul. And that is how one maintains one’s inner life – if you like, one’s spirituality – in the midst of dealing with a lot of temporal, social and other kinds of issues. And I think that’s something that each individual themselves has to address in their own way. I know, as I’ve known for forty years, that if you let your discipline of your prayer life go you’re in trouble. I don’t imagine that being governor-general that would be any different and I’m sure that other governors-general would have found the same thing.

JOURNALIST:

Do you feel you have any unfinished business?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Yes. I have quite a bit of unfinished business. Probably the most unfinished of the unfinished business is the completion of the Cathedral. I truly hope that that will reach its completion by the Year 2006. I wasn’t going to be around anyway by then. I would have been too old. Probably the other big issue is, really the issue of restructuring the life and the ministry of the church. We are in the middle of a major what we call ëparadigm shift’ in how we understand the idea of being church. The bishops and I and the senior clergy and the laity have been working very hard on this for the past four years. We still have a fair way to go. But in many ways I can say that the shop is in very good hands. I can also say that there may be some real values in new leadership coming forward with new energy and enthusiasm to move It to where perhaps I couldn’t have done it. It’s a bit like, you know, I used to run a bit, a relay race of handing the baton over. And I do feel a little bit like an athlete who’s run their lap and it feels okay for me to hand the baton over.

JOURNALIST:

Your comment about being a governor-general for all Australians in spite of your Christian background. Some of the ethical and political issues are going to come out of parts of the community which have no affiliation or commitment to Christian values at all. How do you feel about that?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I feel fine. I feel fine because as I said at the beginning I greatly value the significance of the great religious traditions of the world of which there are now a significant number in Australia. That’s part of our whole of who we are. And I’ve always been part of that and I’ve been part of the ongoing dialogue for religion and peace. And I think that we can deal with that very comfortably. I’ve never had any difficulty in that area at all. In fact I’ve valued the truly cordial relationships and I would trust that they would continue, I would trust that I can be of quiet support to them in their endeavours. Firstly, to help their people settle, secondly to help them express their faith, and thirdly for them to know that they are truly Australians.

JOURNALIST:

Archbishop, Simon Long from ABC TV, how can you interpret the nation to itself as Sir Zelman Cowen said, if at the start of your term as you appear to be doing you rule yourself out of commenting on the most important issues facing the nation.

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Well, what I’ve said is I won’t be calling any more press conferences. One of the valuable things that a governor-general does is on significant occasions, by invitation, the governor-general makes speeches on matters which will enhance a particular cause. In those situations I will certainly endeavour to keep those matters before people’s attention.

JOURNALIST:

What I’m asking is that irrespective of the political complexion of the government of the day if an issue came up that you felt passionately and strongly about and you felt that the government was wrong, would you say so?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

Publicly, no. Of course not. The point I really want to stress, and I think it may be that this was the sort of the final point that needs to be made is that the government of the day, whatever its persuasion, is a government which has been elected by the Australian people. It has its task of implementing its policies. One may not agree with all those policies but it has the right by its election from the people to pursue those policies. If they don’t like it they vote in the next ballot box. It is not the role of the governor-general to interfere in the political process. I think that is an issue of crossing the line and I would not cross the line.

JOURNALIST:

Will this be the biggest distinction between you and your immediate predecessor who has been willing to criticise, very gently, very urbane fashion, but criticise nevertheless?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

You know that I’m not going to answer that. You also know that I have the highest regard for Sir William Deane as I have had for all his predecessors. And I can tell you that corporately with all of them they are very large shoes for me to fill and I will endeavour to do so to the best of my ability.

JOURNALIST:

Would you still regard yourself as being a republican or have you completely changed your views?

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

We’ve dealt with that question.

JOURNALIST:

But would you label yourself which I know you don’t like.

ARCHBISHOP HOLLINGWORTH:

I don’t label myself. Thank you.

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