Howard: A Constitutional Earthquake To Sack A Governor-General

Prime Minister John Howard says it would be a “constitutional earthquake” to sack a Governor-General.

Howard made the comment in an interview on A Current Affair about his defence of Dr. Peter Hollingworth at a press conference today.

Howard said he did not believe there was a case for dismissing the Governor-General.

Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s interview with Mike Munro on Channel 9’s A Current Affair.

MUNRO: Mr Howard, thanks for your time. You certainly surprised a lot of people today.

PRIME MINISTER: Well I did what I thought was right. I didn’t feel that the grounds existed to sack the Governor General because that’s really what it amounted to. I read his statement and having read it I couldn’t bring myself, having examined my conscience, to remove the man from office when I knew that he’d done nothing wrong as Governor General. There was no evidence of any criminal behaviour, no evidence of any moral lapses on his part, and at worst a number of errors of judgement and who amongst us have not been guilty of errors of judgement.

MUNRO: No none of us. But were there too many errors of judgement?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that is a matter of….that’s a subjective thing and in the end I’m left with the responsibility of making that decision and I have to live with the decision. A lot of people will disagree with me. It would have been a constitutional earthquake to sack a Governor General. It was a very difficult decision.

MUNRO: One of your hardest?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh yes. Probably in relation to an individual the hardest because you are dealing with something that I find, you know, beyond belief and repulsive. On the other hand, I know that it’s so easy by smear to associate somebody with that repulsive conduct when they’ve been in no way involved in it themselves.

MUNRO: But did he dig himself in even further on his appearance on the ABC when he seemed to imply blame on the 14-year-old girl who had sex with the priest?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he did say something about that today. I mean he said that he was purporting to respond to something in relation to an adult association. But can I…..

MUNRO: Prime Minister sorry to interrupt you. He said I think I didn’t hear the question properly or something like that. I thought I was talking about an adult relationship. But on the ABC he said this is something that happened 40 years ago, a young priest and a young woman.

PRIME MINISTER: Well look I wasn’t there but what I do know is that he has said something about that today, he’s apologised to the person and he’s apologised to the community for that and knowing him as I do I don’t believe for a moment that he would ever condone sex with an underage girl any more than you and I do. It’s appalling and can never be condoned in any circumstances of any kind whatsoever.

MUNRO: What about the bishop? This priest later became a bishop and remained in office for many years while Dr Hollingworth was Archbishop.

PRIME MINISTER: Yes but to be fair the original decisions about that person’s life in the Church were made before Dr Hollingworth became Archbishop of Brisbane.

MUNRO: And yet the Church sacked this bishop the moment Dr Hollingworth left office for the Governor General. What does that tell you?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I understand….well it means that a different approach was adopted by the person who followed him. The easy thing to have done would have been to have said oh this is all too difficult you should go. Now that would have been politically more expedient and easier than the decision that I’ve taken. But in the end I couldn’t in my conscience believe that I was doing the right thing.

MUNRO: Do you think Dr Hollingworth was sensitive and compassionate towards the families and towards the victims who approached him when he was Archbishop of Brisbane?

PRIME MINISTER: Well he claims he was. I mean I wasn’t there. In my discussions with him can I say he’s as repelled by child abuse as you are and I am and there’s nothing in my contact with him over the years I’ve known him to suggest other than he is like any other ordinary person, man or woman, they find it disgusting and abominable.

MUNRO: It’s not going to go away Mr Howard though is it? Should you be launching a full government, an independent inquiry? It’s not going to go away.

PRIME MINISTER: But there’s nothing….see Mike this is the difficulty with this issue. In the end the criticism of Dr Hollingworth is not that they think his behaviour amounts to a crime or some kind of personal moral lapse of his. I mean people aren’t saying, even his fiercest critics….I mean I saw one person say he should be behind bars. I mean that is ridiculous. There’s no evidence of a crime and I’ve had advice from the Attorney General to that effect. So there’s really nothing to inquire into in that sense. It’s a question of whether his judgements in relation to the handling of some of these things were good or bad and we can argue that forever. But you will never totally resolve it. It fell to me today to decide whether those lapses of judgement were of such a magnitude that he should be removed from the highest office constitutionally in the country and thereby be condemned in the eyes of the Australian public of having failed….

MUNRO: Isn’t he already condemned?

PRIME MINISTER: Well in the eyes of some…..

MUNRO: The majority.

PRIME MINISTER: Well there could be a majority at the present time. I don’t know. I haven’t done any opinion polling on it and in the end on something like this you have to do what you think is right.

MUNRO: All right Prime Minister we’ll leave it there and thank you again for your time.

PRIME MINISTER: Thank you.

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