Howard Defends Hollingworth

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has defended the Governor-General, former Archbishop Peter Hollingworth, against calls for his resignation over his behaviour concerning sexual abuse claims at a Queensland school in 1990.

Critics of the Governor-General have argued this week that he failed to take prompt and appropriate action over abuse claims at the Toowoomba Preparatory School. Hollingworth has been accused of insensitivity, undue reliance on legal advice about the church’s insurance policies, and general indifference to the issue.

Speaking on ABC radio today with Clive Robertson, Howard argued that everyone has their critics: “I feel for him over that but I’ve always found him to be a very committed genuine conscientious person.”

In the interview, Howard says “the suggestion that in some way the Archbishop of Brisbane or indeed the Archbishop of Sydney be it Catholic or Anglican or Melbourne or whatever, is involved in the day to day running of individual parish and private schools is ridiculous.”

Transcript of the portion of the interview dealing with the Governor-General:

ROBERTSON:

Now can I talk about the Governor General?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

ROBERTSON:

The Governor General has denied any cover up of the sexual abuse of the Anglican Toowoomba Preparatory School in 1990. He says he had legal advice not to reveal it. Now I’m quoting here. But the Queensland Chief Justice who was the key legal adviser at the time for the Anglican school said he was never asked to give legal advice and never gave any. The ALP are saying why was fear of legal action more important than welfare or families? So I’ve only got the quote of two people there right. And I’m not asking you to …

PRIME MINISTER:

The Governor General didn’t say incidentally that he had legal advice not to reveal the allegations? He didn’t say that, no. I’ve got his statement with me.

ROBERTSON:

OK.

PRIME MINISTER:

And I’ve actually had quite a lengthy discussion with him about this matter and I’m quite satisfied on the basis of that discussion that the statement that he put out two days ago is his honest recollection of the events. In relation to the Chief Justice, the Governor General did not allege that the Chief Justice had given him advice.

ROBERTSON:

Really?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. He didn’t allege that. No. It is true that the Chief Justice did not give him advice but nobody said he did.

ROBERTSON:

Did he get advice?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he told me that he got advice from a number of sources.

ROBERTSON:

So the ALP is saying do you as the Prime Minister have confidence…

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I do. I do. The charges that have been made against the Governor General, and we are dealing here with an area where human behaviour is really at its most depraved and vile, when you get people who interfere with young children. I think everybody has a flesh-creeping reaction to that and I understand. It’s just abominable when it happens but we’ve got to be fair to the man. Schools of this kind of not just run by Archbishops. They’re run by headmasters and school councils and the suggestion that in some way the Archbishop of Brisbane or indeed the Archbishop of Sydney be it Catholic or Anglican or Melbourne or whatever, is involved in the day to day running of individual parish and private schools is ridiculous.

ROBERTSON:

Where does the buck stop though?

PRIME MINISTER:

The buck stops in terms of the day to day administration of the school. It clearly stops with the headmaster and the school council. But look, the Archbishop has a role and the criticisms that have been made of him, and look I don’t have any direct knowledge of this I am, I’ve talked to him about it and I’ve tried to form a judgement. The criticism made is that he was involved in a cover up. Well there’s no evidence of that. I mean that is ridiculous.

ROBERTSON:

What about the church itself then below him?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well over the years that may be the case. It could still be the case but that could be the case with a government department in relation to a government school. I mean you shouldn’t assume that that’s not the case. The second point is that he was indifferent to parents. Well he’s detailed in his statement two examples of in the first instance of his endeavouring to contact some parents when he was first contacted. Mind you we’re dealing with people’s recollections of events eleven years ago. And on another occasion he believes he did speak to a parent that he said in his words he wasn’t able to satisfy her expectations. The third area of criticism is that he should have required the resignation of the headmaster. Now in his statement he says that he had a three hour meeting with the headmaster in which he discussed the whole matter and at the end of that meeting the headmaster said did he think he should resign and then Archbishop, now Governor General, Hollingworth said no I don’t.

Now people can eleven years later say that was wrong, that was an error of judgement, but that’s all it is. I mean he did apply himself to the issue. I mean what people are really alleging is that he just sort of did nothing and was indifferent to it. Now I don’t think that’s fair. I think some of the criticism that is being made here is unfair in that because it’s a sensitive issue where you have a 150% revulsion and abhorrence in our community of this behaviour, and because you’re dealing with a man who can’t like me everyday go on the media and reply, he is put in a very difficult position. I mean if he starts getting into a running commentary on every nuance of this, and yet I know his natural instinct in a way is to do so, he gets put in a very difficult position.

And I would say with all respect to Mr Crean and others if they have particular complaints, they have specific criticisms, areas of his conduct can we have those rather than sort of generalised comments. I mean the sort of willing to wound, afraid to strike sort of approach is not really satisfactory when you’re dealing with somebody holding this office who can’t, like a Leader of the Opposition or a Prime Minister, reply every hour of the day in the normal fashion.

But I am supporting the Governor General. I have discussed this matter with him. I know he’s very upset about it because he’s distressed that his ministry has been blackened in the eyes of some by it. And I feel for him over that but I’ve always found him to be a very committed genuine conscientious person. Not everybody agrees with him. He’s risen to high office in his church. He’s risen to high office in the country. He has his critics. We all have our critics but on the information available to me, the three charges of cover-up nonsense, the indifference to parents, if you look at the context of what he said I don’t think that is a reasonable charge and certainly in relation to the headmaster he made a judgement and I think it was a judgement that people could reasonably have made in the circumstances.

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