John Howard’s Press Conference In Support Of The Governor-General

The Prime Minister, John Howard, has given his support to the Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth.

Speaking at a press conference today, Howard said he had come to the conclusion “that there are no grounds to advice on the information now available to Her Majesty to terminate Dr. Hollingworth’s appointment”.

Howard said: “People will say and he has admitted that he has probably been guilty of some errors of judgement in relation to certain matters. But that is for none of us, to use the colloquialism, of itself a hanging offence. Who of us have not been guilty in the discharge of some of our obligations errors of judgement?”

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Transcript of Prime Minister John Howard’s press conference.

PRIME MINISTER: Today there have been calls from a number of sources that I should advise Her Majesty the Queen to terminate Dr Peter Hollingworth’s appointment as Governor General of Australia. Such action would be without precedent in the more than 100 years of the Commonwealth of Australia. No previous Governor General has been sacked because that in effect is what is being asked of me today.

And I have naturally over the past few days and most particularly over the last 24 hours given an enormous amount of thought to this very difficult issue. I’ve asked myself are there reasons to terminate, by advice to the Queen, the Governor General’s appointment. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no grounds to advise on the information now available to me Her Majesty to terminate Dr Hollingworth’s appointment. In order to take such an unprecedented step with major constitutional consequences for the future of Australia and the relationship between somebody once appointed to that bipartisan apolitical office and the executive of the day I would need to be satisfied that there were grounds. And I asked myself a series of questions.

I asked myself first of all has the Governor General done anything wrong in the discharge of his duties as Governor General to justify his removal. The answer to that must necessarily and obviously be no. He’s carried out his duties with enthusiasm and dedication and done them extremely well. Therefore I looked to his conduct in his previous roles in life particularly as Archbishop of Brisbane. There’s no evidence before me that he has in the discharge of those responsibilities committed any crime and I’m confirmed in that conclusion by the advice of the first law officer of the Commonwealth – the Attorney General. He’s not been guilty of any moral turpitude. People will say and he has admitted that he has probably been guilty of some errors of judgement in relation to certain matters. But that is for none of us, to use the colloquialism, of itself a hanging offence. Who of us have not been guilty in the discharge of some of our obligations errors of judgement?

This is a difficult and a challenging issue. All of us share the innate revulsion that decent men and women have towards any kind of the abuse of children. And inevitably when that issue is linked however tenuously with somebody’s responsibilities and somebody’s behaviour in an office it’s very easy to develop understandably an emotional atmosphere and an emotional response. My responsibility as Prime Minister, because this is my decision and my decision alone, my responsibility as Prime Minister is to retain both a proper compassion and sensitivity towards community concern about that issue, but also a sense of justice and fairness to ensure that the natural repulsion people fell about it does not unfairly, incorrectly and unjustly spill over into judgements about the behaviour of others. I think there is a danger that that has occurred on this issue.

I have searched my conscience, I’ve looked at the material, and I can understand why people who for whatever combination of reasons might want to be critical of Dr Hollingworth, I can understand why they would want to do so. But I don’t find in the material any evidence that Dr Hollingworth has been soft on child abuse. I don’t find in any of the material that Dr Hollingworth himself has been guilty of anything but maintaining the highest personal standards of moral conduct and moral behaviour.

And when you are looking at a situation like this you have to judge the whole man, the whole person according to his whole life. You have to put the errors of judgement against a lifetime of service and a lifetime in particular of commitment towards people in distress and underprivileged circumstances. In relation to issues of sexual abuse our first concern and compassion must always be for the victims, never for the perpetrators. I don’t find any evidence in the material most recently presented that that charge can be made against Dr Hollingworth. You might question his judgement. He himself has questioned that indeed and he made some comments this morning about some remarks of his on the Australian Story where he clearly feels that what he was meaning to convey has been taken in another context and he’s sought through his own apology today not only to the person in question but to the people of Australia to make it clear that he was in no way condoning, as he should never do and I will never do and nobody holding high office should ever do, the abuse of underage children male or female.

So ladies and gentlemen I don’t find this an easy issue. It’s very hard. It’s never quite arisen in this form before. I spoke to Dr Hollingworth this morning. I talked the matter through. I also at his request had a half-hour meeting with the Leader of the Opposition and he has spoken for the Opposition on this matter.

I value the Office of Governor General and it is said I think by Mr Crean that the reason why he believes Dr Hollingworth should go is to avoid damage to the Office. Now as a statement of principle we should always seek to protect the office from damage. But you don’t necessarily protect an office from damage by bowing immediately to every controversy that surrounds that office. You can damage an office by capriciously, unreasonably, and unjustly removing people from it. You can create a situation where in the future people are dissuaded from accepting high office because of unreasonable scrutiny that might be trained upon them.

There has been a determined attempt in some sections of the community to vilify Dr Hollingworth. He has to answer his accusers, he has to deal in a factual manner with claims that are made. If further claims are made and there’s a suggestion there’ll be further claims made on the Sunday Program, then what I’ve said to Dr Hollingworth is that he has to and I know he will respond to them immediately.

But I cannot exercise my prerogative of final and sole advice to the Queen on this issue, based on media hype, based on unreasonable smearing of somebody’s reputation, I have to base it on a sense of fairness and justice and a sense of responsibility, not only to the community concerned for issues of child abuse but also with some regard for the Office of Governor General. And also some sense of justice towards a person who has spent all of his life in the service of others. Now it’s not an easy mix and the view I have formed, the judgment I have made on the material now available to me is that the grounds do not exist, and I ought not to advice Her Majesty to remove the Governor General. That may not be the most politically expedient decision to take, it may not be the most popular decision to take and I recognise it will be criticised by many of you here today and by people in the community. But in the end I am answerable to my own judgment and to my own conscience. It’s one of those situations where uniquely a Prime Minister, uniquely almost has to make a judgment effectively alone based upon a mixture of considerations, of fairness, of justice, of perception, of respect for the Office, perceptions about attitudes towards social challenges and also the sense of fairness towards the occupant. And for those reasons I’ve come to the view that I have and that is that on the material before me at present I do not believe grounds properly exist for the Governor General to be removed and I will therefore not be tendering any such advice to Her Majesty.

JOURNALIST: Given though that the controversy looks as though it will continue at least for a while, the church is going to have an inquiry, there are more claims coming out, we know that. Given that it will go on for a while how do you maintain and protect the respect for Office, how do you cocoon this or does Dr Hollingworth just have to go through his?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think you can, in this day and age, cocoon any office from controversy. We no longer live in an age where offices and positions are cocooned. There was once a view for example that the British Royal Family was cocooned and that’s all changed. Everything now is more accountable and more open to scrutiny. There are things said about office holders of all kinds in Australia and around and the world that wouldn’t have been said 30 or 40 years ago. There was restraint displayed by the media of Great Britain and the United States regarding behaviour which wouldn’t be displayed now. I mean everything is different now, everybody is more accountable. Doesn’t really, I mean you can’t really cocoon anything and this is not the first time that there’s been some controversy around the office, I don’t welcome it, I don’t like it and in a sense as I said earlier the easy thing is to say “oh well look there’s going to be controversy so I’ll agree and we’ll get another Governor General”. That doesn’t solve anything if the merits of the decision are bad. I mean in the end my responsibility is to judge this on its merits, taking everything into account, I can’t judge it according to a focus group, I can’t judge it according to media clamour, I can’t judge it according to expressions of particular criticism or outrage. The things I’ve got to take into the mix are community concern about child abuse, I’ve got to take some other things in as well. I can only say I can’t find anything in what I’ve seen that reflects upon the integrity and the moral standing of the man. He’s not committed any crime, he’s not been guilty of any immorality himself, he’s had years of service to those who are in need of assistance and in the absence of that I think I would be failing in my duty, I would be succumbing to the clamour of the mob as expressed through the media if I acted as I’ve been asked to do by the Leader of the Opposition.

JOURNALIST: In all reasonableness though can the Governor General continue in office when he’s lost the support of Her Majesty’s opposition?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I think that is an issue that we’ve faced before. I can remember another Governor General who didn’t have the support of Her Majesty’s opposition between 1975 and 1977. I don’t know that it automatically follows that because the Leader of the Opposition has said that I should advise the Queen that Dr Hollingworth should resign, that there won’t necessary be proper co-operation between the Opposition and the Governor General and there won’t be proper courtesies extended. I had a perfectly civil discussion with the Leader of the Opposition about this, I don’t believe there’ll be any discourties displayed but I mean in the end we have to make our own decisions. I mean you can’t have a situation where just because the Opposition says the Governor General ought to resign, oh well the Governor General ought to reign. I mean you’ve got to look at the merits. I mean I have to say to those who think he ought to resign what are your reasons on the merits. I mean the only reason I’ve heard is damage to the Office by the controversy, well offices are much stronger than people imagine. If you applied the test of controversy to the strength and durability of an office, many of them would have disappeared long years ago. I don’t believe that the office of Governor General will be other than something that remains quite central to the life of this community for a long time, no matter who occupies it. And I say again Geof if you unreasonably or capriciously and under pressure remove somebody from a high office you can do great damage to that office. I mean when you hold an office like this you’ve got to have a very good reason, I mean this has never happened before and it is, in the Australian experience, a constitutional earthquake for the Prime Minister to effectively sack the Governor General of this country without any evidence of that man having failed in his duties as Governor General, committed any crime, being guilty of any moral turpitude or being guilty of any proven misbehaviour or impropriety. Yes, errors of judgment, yes some people may question the felicity of his language in relation to certain things. I mean we’re all fallible, we all express these things differently, we all talk of our moral outrage about certain things differently but it would be a constitutional earthquake if we reached a situation where, you know, you just think down the line, in a few years time Howard sacked Hollingworth. Why? Had he committed any crime. I mean, I have to think of those things and it is not something that can be done lightly or wantonly. And I think…

JOURNALIST: Did Dr Hollingworth this morning in his discussions with you indicate that he would be open to offer his resignation if his position in your view became untenable?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, he has not offered his resignation. But look, beyond that I don’t really want to talk about our discussion, it’s not normal.

JOURNALIST: Did you advise him about the Australian Story comment to clear them up because he came out of your discussion with a doorstop. Was that one of your…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I don’t know, I think it sort of came up in the discussion. Look, we had a pretty candid discussion.

JOURNALIST: Were you concerned about those comments that he made?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I would have put it differently and he has now put it differently.

JOURNALIST: Are you happy with that, Prime Minister, the words that he said this morning…

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I just saw a grab and the grab said that he felt he’d been talking about a different situation and he gave an unreserved apology. I mean, look, I don’t think you can be any more than that. No, he indicated to me separately that he was going to do that.

JOURNALIST: You didn’t advise…

PRIME MINISTER: No, I didn’t twist his arm on that if that’s what you are saying. No I didn’t.

JOURNALIST: So how do you define moral turpitude?

PRIME MINISTER: Moral turpitude is behaving in a depraved or base way. That’s what turpitude means.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]…because he wasn’t actually the perpetrator of any of these things. That’s what you mean?

PRIME MINISTER: No. But he also on the available evidence…he didn’t counsel and procure, he didn’t encourage, he didn’t actively cover up, he didn’t actively discourage police investigation. I mean, it extends more, I am not just saying because he himself was clearly not involved of any acts of personal impropriety. I mean, I extend it more broadly than that.

JOURNALIST: Simon Crean suggested in terms of future appointments of governors-general there should be a provision for public input into the selection process. What’s your response to that?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, that is another issue. I’ll think about that in another context.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]…allegation that the Governor-General while he was Archbishop did actively cover up in relation to the St Paul’s issue…

PRIME MINISTER: Are you talking about the legal settlements?

JOURNALIST: Yes.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, if what you are alleging is of a piece with what I have seen in the papers over the last couple of days I find it hard to accept that there is an active cover up. I mean, all….

JOURNALIST: But there are allegations from parents of victims and from lawyers involved in the case?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t accept that it is a cover up to have a settlement of a piece of litigation on terms not to be disclosed. That normally happens. I think to call that a cover up in the context of this is quite unreasonable.

JOURNALIST: It’s a different way to the way the archdiocese handled the Toowoomba preparatory school.

PRIME MINISTER: Well, in one case that is St Paul’s, you are talking about…you are talking about Lynch are you?

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, well, you know, they can handle it in a different fashion but they are perfectly entitled to do that if they want to. I don’t think that indicates that he’s trying to cover anything up and in any event as his statement indicates he was informed of that decision. I mean, on this basis you’ll have people going through the records of every archdiocese, Catholic, Anglican, every Uniting Church [inaudible], let’s go through them all and find out if there were any settlements on terms not to be disclosed. I think that is drawing an unreasonably long bow.

JOURNALIST: The point of my question, Prime Minister, was that this is an untested allegation from people involved. Did you at any time consider arranging for the Governor-General to stand aside while there was an independent examination of these facts?

PRIME MINISTER: No. I think the idea of him standing aside in circumstances where the allegations that have been made he’s dealt with. People will be happy or some will not be happy with the way he has responded. I think that is an unrealistic way of handling the situation. And no, I’ve not done that. I can only go back to my central point, nothing has emerged that reflects upon the performance of his duties as Governor-General. He’s not been found…he’s not alleged and there is no evidence that he has been guilty of any crime or any personal impropriety or any moral turpitude as I call it. The worst that can be said of him – the worst – is that he’s made some errors of judgement. Now, we are all guilty of errors of judgement and if you are going to, you know, cause a constitutional earthquake on the basis of some errors of judgement I think that is creating a very dangerous and precarious set of circumstances for the government of this country.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Howard, isn’t it on something like judgement that you do appoint…

PRIME MINISTER: I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it on a sort of a weighing up of the sort of judgements that people make in their lives whether they are going to make good and sound judgements, that’s the sort of thing you take into account when you choose the Governor-General?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, the point I am making, Fran, is that everybody at some stage is guilty of errors of judgement. There is no man or woman alive who is not guilty of errors of judgement. And I think if you went through the backgrounds of every person who held the office of governor-general you’d probably find some examples where in their business or profession or whatever life they may, or military life they may have exercised errors of judgement. I mean, even people who hold other high offices in this country are guilty of many errors of judgement.

JOURNALIST: [Inaudible]…did you speak to the Attorney-General?

PRIME MINISTER: I did. I sought the Attorney-General’s advice and….

JOURNALIST: Did you consult anyone else?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh, I spoke to the leadership group of the Coalition.

JOURNALIST: Was it a unanimous view?

PRIME MINISTER: Yes.

JOURNALIST: No dissent at all?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in your discussion with Mr Crean, did you raise with him concerns that the position the Opposition was to take would damage the Office of Governor-General and did you try to dissuade him at all from…

PRIME MINISTER: Oh no, look, it was a civilised discussion. I put my point of view and he put his and I thought it was good that we could over a cup of tea have a discussion about it and I think the position he is taking is not helpful to the office. I think he…I think what the Opposition has done is to needlessly politicise a very difficult issue.

JOURNALIST: What do you think might be done to the office by the decision….

PRIME MINISTER: Well, I actually think, you know, them sort of breaking with a bipartisan handling of this would probably, that’s more potentially damaging than the allegations against Dr Hollingworth.

JOURNALIST: You set out a series of tests to us this morning, events which made your decision. Did you advise the Governor-General of those tests on which your decision has been made?

PRIME MINISTER: Not in any formal sense. I mean, they may have come to his attention in a rhetorical fashion during our discussion. But I didn’t sit down and, you know, I didn’t give him a formal bit of paper and I didn’t sit down with a checklist and say well, look, you know, I have given you nine out of ten on this or ten out of ten on something else, but you have got a fail down here. I didn’t sort of go through that process. But they are the sort of things I have in my mind and I think they are the, in trying to make up my mind on something like this, they are the sort of tests that you reasonably apply.

JOURNALIST: Do you think there are ever times when the church law, that the principles of forgiveness, go now and don’t sin again, can conflict with the rule of law as we understand it?

PRIME MINISTER: I am sure there are times. As somebody who has studied, well has studied church teaching, having been brought up as non-conformist I tend to see the teachings of the church not so much as laws but as teachings, when you consider that versus the rule of law you can have some conflicts.

JOURNALIST: Is the rule of law paramount in that case?

PRIME MINISTER: Well, to one’s conscience the teachings are always paramount. In society the rule of law you always have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s due. And the rule of law is always paramount, that’s one of the reasons why I got the advice of the Attorney-General.

JOURNALIST: You mentioned the [inaudible] post ’75 that was very divisive etcetera. Do you think this will be like that?

PRIME MINISTER: No, I don’t. I mean, that was a political…I mean, they resented what Sir John Kerr had done. I think this is a different issue. I think it is regrettable that the Labor Party sort of rushed to politicise this. I think it is very regrettable. But that’s their decision, I don’t intend to labour the point but I think it is regrettable. I mean, I can only say if you apply the test that I have applied today nobody could reasonably reach the conclusion on the information and material now available. I think it will be a difficult time, a stressful time for the Governor-General. I understand that. But these issues challenge all of us in a very accountable public arena and it’s a different world and it will never go back to what it was before and you do have to live with rules of accountability and everybody is subject to an enormous amount of scrutiny. Some of it is not very reasonable but it happens.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on November 7, Air Marshal Houston told Peter Reith that a crucial military cable contained no evidence of children overboard and that the released photographs were taken when the asylum seekers’ boat was sinking. Did Reith relay that advice to you in your conversation on the evening of that same day?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Why not and should he have raised that very crucial advice from Houston to you? Why didn’t he?

PRIME MINISTER: Well you should question Mr Reith about that but the simple answer is he did not.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, a couple of times in your earlier remarks about the Governor General you said I’ll let you now and at present advice and so on. In your mind is this now a closed issue or could it be reopened if further damaging evidence comes out?

PRIME MINISTER: Michelle, no issue is ever closed. They were the familiar words of Captain Cautious.

JOURNALIST: …an inquiry into fitness of the Governor General to continue to hold office. Would that be an argument for him to stand aside?

PRIME MINISTER: I would think that would be an argument that the Senate is behaving inappropriately. It would not of itself be an argument for him to stand aside no. It would confirm in my mind the view that the Senate is not always behaving appropriately.

JOURNALIST: There are no written rules outlining grounds for dismissal of a Governor General. Do you think there should be and should changes be made to ensure that there are….?

PRIME MINISTER: I don’t think so no. Now you may think I’m not a disinterested party in answering that question but I’m a great believer in the common law. I don’t believe in codifying rights any more than I believe in codifying authority and power too much. I think you need because society changes no one set of circumstances are the same as another. I think you do have to always have a lot of flexibility. I mean in the end we are an aggregation of personalities and individuals and human judgement is the best process of adjudication. If you become a slave to formal rules you don’t guarantee greater freedom.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible].. a prime minister’s judgment?

PRIME MINISTER: Well it comes with the office.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that the Queen’s visit will be [inaudible]…?

PRIME MINISTER: I hope it’s not but I’m….

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

PRIME MINISTER: I think her Majesty will have a successful visit and will be warmly received in South Australia and the State of Queensland and will enjoy the company of her Commonwealth leaders at the various functions at the CHOGM meeting at beautiful Coolum and I’m sure you’ll all be there.

JOURNALIST: ….conversation with Mr Reith, any discussion at all about the conversation he had with Air Marshall Houston?

PRIME MINISTER: No.

JOURNALIST: Would you prefer the churches to be subject to more public scrutiny given that anyone appointed to this high office from judiciary, military background, even business, would have already been subject to public scrutiny?

PRIME MINISTER: I think the churches now are subject to an enormous amount of public scrutiny. I think the media has really gone through the Catholic Church in particular and other churches with an enormous amount of scrutiny. I think it’s….I mean the suggestion that the churches are not now subject to scrutiny is a bit outdated. I don’t think you’ve been reading the papers or watching the television.

JOURNALIST: Would you prefer these allegations to have been made public through the media before you had to make your decision on his appointment?

PRIME MINISTER: Look I can’t control who makes allegations. I mean as far as the church and private schools are concerned I think I’ve said before that in reality private schools are run by school councils. They’re not run by Archbishops whether they’re Catholic or Anglican or anything else. I know that from the personal experience at a secondary level of my children. The idea that the school that my two sons attended in Sydney was run by the Archbishop of Sydney it’s just ridiculous. He turned up at speech day and occasionally attended a school function. A very fine school council and fine people all but it’s literally just not run and something could be going on and to suggest that he is fixed with knowledge of that is the equivalent of saying that the CDF is fixed with knowledge of everything that goes on inside the armed forces. I mean it is just an unreal proposition.

JOURNALIST: You’ve mentioned the CDF….

PRIME MINISTER: I do mention the CDF.

JOURNALIST: Minister Hill said yesterday that the CDF had briefed him on the advice that Air Marshall Houston had given to Peter Reith and he told you about that. Was that the first time you’d heard of the advice from Air Marshall Houston and why didn’t you come into the Parliament and tell the Parliament that in fact the Defence Minister had been told?

PRIME MINISTER: Well there’s a couple of answers to that. The first is that I was informed on Friday evening by Max Moore-Wilton that the then Acting CDF General Mueller had said that Angus Houston was going to make a statement about this. I think in fact Angus may have, I’m not certain about this but it matters not, may in fact have spoken to Max. He said he was going to make a statement broadly to the effect of what ultimately turned out to be the statement and I was told that what would happen is that the statement would be made and would be given to the CDF when he returned and the CDF would presumably give it Senator Hill and then Senator Hill would tell me about it. Now that purely happened yesterday. Why didn’t I come into the Parliament? Well firstly I knew that the statement was going to be delivered at Senate Estimates. Secondly the statement of itself without some response from Mr Reith does not prove what is asserted in the statement and Mr Reith’s response could not be elicited until the statement arrived and when the statement arrived a response was elicited from Mr Reith. I don’t know whether it’s arrived yet. It would not have been proper of Mr Reith until the statement arrived to have been briefed about the possibility of it coming. I think if that had happened others would have been criticised. So I don’t see the point of….I’m not saying I don’t see the point of your question. I always see the point of your questions Fran. But I can’t see where anybody’s behaved in any way inappropriately. I mean the thing’s arrived. I mean obviously if somebody rings up and says I’m going to give you a statement you sort of don’t really believe it until you actually get the statement. So that’s how that happened.

JOURNALIST: Where you disappointed that Minister Reith didn’t provide you with the information as soon as he became aware of it? And are you still insisting that your office was never told about this?

PRIME MINISTER: About this? Of course I’m insisting it wasn’t.

JOURNALIST: Yesterday you said here that there were no, that doubts were expressed to you by Mr Reith, at least about the photographs from that conversation. Now you say today that doubts as expressed by Mr Houston weren’t conveyed to you. Can you please clarify exactly what doubts and in what terms Mr Reith raised with you during that conversation on November 7th?

PRIME MINISTER: What he mentioned to me was that there was some debate about the, I think I used the expression juxtaposition of the photos. That was the debate to which you refereed and to which I adverted. We also on that occasion, we also talked about the video, about the release of the video. But he did not mention anything to me about the phone call from Air Marshal Houston and it is worth making the point, I don’t know whether he’s issued a statement or not, that’s a matter for him, I can only speak of my knowledge. But I would make the observation that certainly Air Marshal Houston has made his statement to Senate Estimates but it’s also worth pointing out that as of last night the Head of the Defence Force rejected the finding of General Powell’s report by the 10th of October a view had been formed in Defence that children had not been thrown overboard. In fact Admiral Barrie who is the senior military adviser to the Government had this to say last night, and I think it’s worth repeating. “It was my view that the photographs were simply part of evidentiary material, the really important aspects of this are witness statements and perceptions and that initial report, so far as I was concerned, ought to stand.” He then goes on to say, “And I never sought to recant that advice that I originally gave to the Minister.” This is the most senior military adviser to the Government saying last night that he never sought to recant that advice to the Minister.

JOURNALIST: … Mr Howard, seems to be two strongly divided groups of opinion. Two senior officers supporting the Government’s position, Shackleton and Barrie, and many other senior officers deeply resentful about the Government’s behaviour and saying other things to the Senate estimates committee.

PRIME MINISTER: Well that’s your statement.

JOURNALIST: Mr Howard, General Powell’s report didn’t mention the Houston/Reith conversation, what sort of an admission do you think that was?

PRIME MINISTER: Well that really is a matter that has to be pursued with General Powell. I didn’t, just remember I commissioned a report, I didn’t write them, I didn’t seek to influence them…

JOURNALIST: … reports you found that weren’t (inaudible)?

PRIME MINISTER: I think what last night has illustrated very very clearly not withstanding what is in Angus Houston’s statement, very very clearly that there was a, the idea that a unified view formed with defence around the 10th October that the original advice was wrong, I think the evidence that’s been presented last night has blown that away altogether. And if you have as late as last night the most senior military adviser to the Government saying that he has never recanted the advice he gave to his minister, I think it’s a bit rich for people to still be running around and saying that we’ve been engaged in some kind of deliberate cover-up.

JOURNALIST: Shouldn’t we then sack the Commander of the Adelaide…

PRIME MINISTER: I’ll tell you what, the last person who ought to be sacked in the whole thing is the Commander of the Adelaide and the men and women on his vessel. I mean he’s, as far I’m concerned, he’s deserving of the highest praise.

JOURNALIST: How is Dr Hollingworth bearing up?

PRIME MINISTER: Oh look this is obviously a very difficult and stressful time for him but he has a great deal…

JOURNALIST: … in this meeting with you today?

PRIME MINISTER: I beg your pardon?

JOURNALIST: Was he distressed in this meeting with you? How’d you find him?

PRIME MINISTER: Look he’s obviously under strain, I wouldn’t say he was distressed but it’s a difficult time. If you had sort of read some of the things that have unfairly been said and written about him in recent days, you’re only human and he’s a very sensitive person, like all of us when our character and our fibre is called into question. We do our best. But I think he’s had a pretty torrid time but nobody should imagine that he’s not made of pretty strong stuff and I think he’ll be equal to the challenge.

I think we might leave it there.

Thank you.

JOURNALIST: Has he got the ticker, Prime Minister?

PRIME MINISTER: I think he’s got a pretty good ticker, yes.

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