Governor-General Peter Hollingworth Stands Aside

The Governor-General, Dr. Peter Hollingworth, has stood aside, pending the resolution of issues arising from rape allegations.

The decision for Hollingworth to stand aside by was announced by Prime Minister John Howard at a press conference in Sydney.

Text of statement issued by the Governor-General, Peter Hollingworth, in Sydney tonight.

The Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard and I met today at Admiralty House.

I advised the Prime Minister that I was happy to stand aside from the position of Governor-General and we both agreed that I should do so until the issues relating to me raised by the case brought by the late ‘Annie’ Jarmyn are resolved.

The Prime Minister has initiated action for the appointment of an Administrator.

In taking this decision, I have always been mindful of maintaining the integrity and dignity of the office of the Governor-General of Australia.

I regret that this action will mean that I am unable to undertake previously agreed engagements.

I look forward to the earliest resolution of matters concerned in the ‘Annie’ Jarmyn case.

Transcript of press conference held by Prime Minister John Howard.

HOWARD: Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve called this news conference this afternoon to inform the Australian people that today the Governor General and I met at Admiralty House. It has been agreed between the Governor General and myself that Dr Hollingworth will stand aside from his position as Governor General pending the determination of the court proceedings initiated in the Supreme Court of Victoria by the late “Annie” Jarmyn. During the period that he stands aside, the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Guy Green, who is the senior serving State Governor, will administer the Commonwealth. I have already spoken to the Tasmanian Premier to obtain his approval for this course of action and my office has been in touch with the State Governor’s Office.

It is only when those proceedings have been determined that the Governor General can give proper consideration to his longer term tenure of his office. The Governor General has told me in giving consideration to the longer term tenure of that office that he will place the dignity and the protection of the office above all other consideration. It remains my view that the Governor General has not done anything during the tenure of his office as Governor General to warrant my recommending to the Queen that his commission should be terminated or his appointment ended.

It should also be again recorded that he has vigorously and directly and openly repudiated the more than 40 year old allegations of rape which were the subject of his address last Thursday. As was proper the Governor General informed me when those allegations were first made and he has kept me in touch with the progress of the proceedings and discussions regarding it ever since.

Like any other Australian citizen, Peter Hollingworth is entitled to the presumption of innocence, he’s also entitled to a fair go. The conduct of the proceedings initiated by the late “Annie” Jarmyn is of course in the hands of the Victorian Supreme Court. Dr Hollingworth has told me that his lawyers will co-operate and involve themselves in any way appropriate in achieving a speedy resolution of those proceedings.

Also, I have sought advice as to whether it might be appropriate for the Commonwealth to seek to intervene in those proceedings in the public interests to argue for an expedition of those proceedings.

The fitness of Dr Hollingworth to hold the office of Governor General has been vigorously contested by many since the publication of the results of the board of inquiry established by the Anglican diocese of Brisbane. I should say in relation to that report, and it’s a plain statement of fact, that it is of course not a judicial inquiry, it was an inquiry of a purely private character. Dr Hollingworth himself has strongly contested one of the major findings of that report, which are adverse to him, which is adverse to him. He also believes that the conduct and the handling of that inquiry involved a denial of natural justice, he has obtained the opinion of a senior counsel which strongly supports the view which he has put. And it should also be noted that Dr Hollingworth made a very detailed statement in relation to the issues canvassed by the inquiry in February of last year.

Let me conclude this opening statement by saying that this is of course a difficult issue. It’s an issue that had to be resolved in a way and addressed in a way that respects most importantly the dignity and the importance of the Office of Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia. But also in a way that is fair and reasonable to Dr Hollingworth himself. Let me repeat that he will stand aside from the Office, Sir Guy Green will become the administrator of the Commonwealth and that situation will obtain until the court proceedings, which came to light last week, have been resolved. And it will only be then that a proper judgment can be made by him about his longer term tenure of the office. And let me also repeat that he’s made it very plain to me that in thinking about the longer term, the greatest importance of all, as attached by him, the protection of the office which he occupies.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, was standing aside Dr Hollingworth’s suggestion or yours?

HOWARD: The statement says, and I repeat, it was agreed between us.

JOURNALIST: Did you ask for his resignation?

HOWARD: There is no question of this being a resignation. The answer is no I did not.

JOURNALIST: Won’t standing aside just drag this matter out even longer…

HOWARD: No…

JOURNALIST: … the Governor General…

HOWARD: I think this is the right thing to do, taking into account all of the circumstances. It is the view of many people, and I tend to share that view, that the raising of the rape allegations have somewhat altered the situation and many people argue that that matter has to be dealt with before the rest of the issue can be properly addressed.

JOURNALIST: … stand aside (inaudible)….

HOWARD: Paul, the procedure has been agreed between the two of us.

JOURNALIST: So there’s (inaudible) that this is quite an open ended arrangement? I mean what sort of timing…

HOWARD: Well at the moment, it should be understood and I know this gets into the legal minutiae, but all that is before the court at present is an application to bring an action out of the period of time allowed by the statute of limitations. It’s under I understand section 23a, the relevant act in Victoria. And I have been told by Dr Hollingworth’s solicitor that there’s an expectation that that particular hearing could take place in a matter of weeks. Now I can’t say any more than that. I don’t believe on the basis of the information I’ve been given that it is open ended, certainly the first part of it is something that’s likely to come on, so I’m told, within a period of four to six weeks. I have to be careful what I say, I don’t want to pre-empt in any way the Victorian Supreme Court and if I felt this were a completely open ended thing then I would understand the point of your question.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, in longer term do you see any need for Dr Hollingworth’s resignation?

HOWARD: I’m not going to say anything about that beyond what I’ve just said.

JOURNALIST: … confidence in the Governor General?

HOWARD: Paul, I have laid out a procedure to deal with something, I’m not going to get into trick questions. Do I have confidence in him as a person? Of course…

JOURNALIST: … question…

HOWARD: … I have great confidence in him as an individual. Clearly his position as Governor General, it having just been announced that he’s going to stand aside, will be a matter of debate.

JOURNALIST: Does he still has your support as Governor General?

HOWARD: Well I’ve laid out a procedure and I’ve told you that there are no grounds to recommend his removal.

JOURNALIST: The Victorian Court case aside, the board of inquiry (inaudible) adverse findings against Dr Hollingworth, wouldn’t it just be better if he resigned. Why didn’t he resign?

HOWARD: Well I’ve indicated my position on that and I don’t have anything to add to what I’ve said. Except to point out that that was not a court hearing, it was not a judicial inquiry, it was a private inquiry, I’m in no position to make an independent judgement on that without having heard myself everybody who appeared before it and I don’t intend to do that. What I do intend to do is to point out the status of the inquiry and also to point out to you that Dr Hollingworth contests a principal adverse finding and that he has senior counsel’s opinion which supports his view, very strongly supports his view that he was denied natural justice.

JOURNALIST: … damage the office of Governor General?

HOWARD: Look, I think it’s very easy to say when you’re trying to promote an argument that something that is being done will damage an office. It’s remarkable how resilient office’s are. We have seen the mightiest office in the world be subject of very heavy debate. I don’t think the Presidency of the United States, and I’ve had some opportunity in the past few weeks to observe the Presidency, I think the Presidency of the United States now is probably stronger than it’s ever been. So I think we should be a little reluctant to start flinging around in aide of our arguments this proposition that unless something’s done grave damage will be done to the office. You can do grave damage to the office in a number of ways, you have to follow a proper process, you have to accord justice to people, you also have to be sensitive to public opinion and to public support. I take all of those things into account, I haven’t reached this decision arbitrarily, I think I’ve reached the right decision and it’s a proper decision that will both protect the office but also extend a fair go to Dr Hollingworth.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, have you reached a decision on the merits of the Anglican board of inquiry investigation? Have you reached a decision on the merits of that inquiry or not?

HOWARD: No, I can only report what I’ve just said Paul and that is that, I mean I’ve read relevant bits of it, I can’t pretend I have read of all it, but I’ve read the relevant sections of it and the section that is most critical of Dr Hollingworth, he has contested a principal finding, I have in fact seen the senior counsel’s opinion and the senior counsel’s opinion was extremely critical of that and the question of the release of that opinion is a matter for Dr Hollingworth not for me. But without having spoken to everybody I’m not going to, I’m not offering a view rightly or wrongly, I’m not offering a view as to whether the board of inquiry is right or wrong, I’m just not really in a position to know. What I’m pointing out to you is the status of it and I’m also pointing out, or reminding you that Dr Hollingworth does not agree with its conclusions and that he has the opinion of another Queen’s counsel who says that natural justice was not extended. Now I can’t say any more than that.

JOURNALIST: But you’re also highlighting the limitations of that inquiry, that’s essentially what you’re doing.

HOWARD: Well you can write that Paul but I’m not going to get into that sort of, I’m not going to get into that sort of esoteric conclusion.

JOURNALIST: Would you rule out the possibility of the Commonwealth (inaudible) its own inquiry into these issues?

HOWARD: Well I don’t have any such inquiry in contemplation.

JOURNALIST: … rape allegations inaudible)?

HOWARD: The standing aside is until the rape case is determined. I mean this is a serious issue. When that has been determined, as my statement says, it is then, only then that proper consideration can be given by the Governor General to his longer term tenure of the office.

JOURNALIST: … public opinion (inaudible)…

HOWARD: Public opinion is damaged?

JOURNALIST: … public opinion about the Governor General relating to the board of inquiry (inaudible) is already so bad that it would be very hard for him to continue on in the position even if the rape allegations prove (inaudible)?

HOWARD: Well let’s sort of deal with that issue after the rape allegation issue has been dealt with. This is obviously a very difficult issue, we are, all of us, repulsed by child abuse but your, the extent to which you are repulsed by child abuse should not totally determine every single, I mean what I’ve got to try and do with this is as well as showing my repulsion to child abuse, I’ve also got to try and see that the thing is conducted in a fair and proper manner and that’s what I’m trying to do and I think this procedure will do exactly that.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, are you concerned at the tenor of this debate and are you concerned that there has been a campaign against Dr Hollingworth to try and drive him from office(inaudible)…

HOWARD: Well I think some of the, well I understand why people are concerned about child abuse and I understand that in the past in this country a number of institutions, and not only the churches, have been guilty of a too permissive attitude towards child abuse and that attitudes obtained in the past no longer obtain in relation to that and you always have these difficulties of imposing attitudes and approaches that are held now on past conduct. I do think some of the criticism of Dr Hollingworth, in relation to matters quite unrelated to these things has been unfair. I think in particular the criticism of his failure to go to Bali after the tragedy there, it was plainly unrealistic for him to have gone to Bali, I had to go to Bali because a number of decisions had to be made, which he was plainly in no position to go and when you have a tragedy like that, quite frankly the last thing for people trying to help the victims want in the first few days is a visit from a dignitary, (inaudible) Governor General or a Prime Minister. I think that criticism was quite unfair but beyond that this is not the occasion for a seminar on all of the aspects of it but I do think, as you asked me the question, that was a particular example of where some elements of the media have been quite unfairly disposed towards him.

JOURNALIST: If the rape allegation amounts to nothing can you see a situation in which the Governor General resumes his position as soon as…

HOWARD: Look I’m not going to hypothesise about that, I’m not speculating about that. I’m stating the obvious. He’s standing aside, the rape allegations (inaudible) dealt with and then and only then can he properly determine his longer term tenure of the office. And in making that determination he has told me that he will give the greatest consideration to the welfare of the office.

JOURNALIST: … Prime Minister if in fact it does intervene in these proceedings, you’ve foreshadowed that you are taking legal advice on that, what’s the sort of possible role for the Commonwealth?

HOWARD: Well only to argue that there’s a public interest in the proceedings being resolved as soon as possible. Obviously we wouldn’t be seeking in any way to intervene on the merits but there is a public interest in the matter being resolved with you know proper dispatch.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it an extraordinary situation that the Prime Minister won’t express full confidence or say whether the Governor General should resign?

HOWARD: Look I’ve explained the situation and you can report that if you wish but I’ve explained what the position is and I think I’ve handled the matter, a difficult matter, in the appropriate fashion, in a way that expresses our respect for and support of the office of the Governor General but also in a way that extends a fairness to the current occupant of that office, to Dr Hollingworth. And I repeat, he’s the Governor General but he’s also an Australian and he’s entitled to a presumption of innocence and he’s also entitled to a fair go.

JOURNALIST: You’re saying there’s still a question mark over his long term future as a result of these previous matters when he was Archbishop.

HOWARD: I’m saying what I’ve said in the statement.

JOURNALIST: … nature of discussions for today and what (inaudible)?

HOWARD: I found him very very calm and positive. It’s obviously been an extremely difficult period for him, particularly with the illness of his wife. It’s pretty, I mean if you felt a 40 year old totally outrageous allegation had been made against you, I think you’d feel some emotion, he certainly does. I mean that is his belief, I mean I have to be careful what I say, the court proceedings have been started, I’m in no position to presume the role of a court, I merely ask you to think how you might feel, or anybody might feel if you believe that you’ve been wrongly and outrageously accused of something that is absolutely abhorrent to you, you’d feel pretty, and it was a matter of public knowledge, I mean let us not forget that action was put in train by a member of the Labor Party to make this public in ways that anticipated and potentially pre-empted the court proceedings.

JOURNALIST: Have you spoken to Buckingham Palace about his standing aside?

HOWARD: Have I? Well there’s been appropriate contact with the palace, yes.

JOURNALIST: Do you regret his appointment as Governor General?

HOWARD: Look I made the appointment at the time believing that he would be a good person to fill the office, that was my belief. Obviously I didn’t know that some of these things were going to transpire. I don’t think in a question like this you speak of regret, I mean that’s the equivalent of saying that whenever anything adverse turns up you must immediately regret being there, or having put somebody there in the first place. I appointed him, I recommended his appointment because I thought he was a person who’d given enormous service to Australia. I’ve always found him an intelligent compassionate man, he’s certainly been a vigorous advocate of the underprivileged in this country, (inaudible) a bit of a thorn in the side on a number of occasions of governments of both political persuasions and I thought he would be well qualified for the job. Now matters have arisen unrelated to the performance of his duties as Governor General and I’ve dealt with those matters.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, is this designed, standing aside, is this designed to allow Peter Hollingworth to go quietly?

HOWARD: Designed to do exactly what I said.

JOURNALIST: Will he remain in residence at Government House Prime Minister?

HOWARD: Yes.

JOURNALIST: Has this become a party political thing because the rape allegations were first aired, well not aired in Parliament, but it was in Parliament that…

HOWARD: Well I think if people had been genuinely interested in, from a careful handling of this, there could have been a private inquiry made of my office about it and we could have briefed, if they had wanted to know, they were interested in knowing the situation rather than trying to score a political point. I mean those questions were put on notice apparently without the knowledge of the Leader of the Opposition, he said so on the Insiders this morning, I don’t know whether that’s right or wrong, I mean I’ve no reason to disbelieve him, if that’s what he says then that is the case. But anybody genuinely interested in the office, having heard about this, would have at least sort of made some contact to find out the background to it because there’s a procedure with these things and bear in mind that you’re dealing with allegations of something that is said to have occurred almost 40 years ago and you know it’s a pretty horrendous allegation to make, to have made against. I mean the whole thing is appallingly tragic, the woman in question is now deceased and in all of the circumstances, it would have been the right thing for Mr Tanner to have got in touch with my office or the Governor General’s office and made a private inquiry.

JOURNALIST: … that you still had confidence in Peter Hollingworth as man. Did you (inaudible)?

HOWARD: Look I’m not going to go over exactly how we talked. We talked as two people who’ve known each other for quite some time. I mean I’m conscience of first and foremost of my duties to the Australian people and the duties I have to the Australian people transcend the duties I have to any one individual and those duties include taking regard to the capacity of anybody to discharge an office that person holds. It also pays regard to the importance I have of making detached independent judgements and not just being swayed by the latest opinion poll. In various stages of my political career I’ve been accused of being poll driven, and on other occasions I’ve been accused of being stubborn and obstinate because I won’t take notice of the latest opinion poll. I mean I have a duty to bring some kind of independent judgment to these things and also to recognise that safeguarding an institution involves not only public support for the occupants of an office but also a willingness to ensure that people in the occupancy of their office are not unfairly treated. And I’ve tried to bring all of those factors into account, I’ve read the polls, I know what the polls say, I also know that I’ve got to look at this thing independently and you don’t recommend that somebody leave the office of Governor General on the basis of the latest opinion poll.

JOURNALIST: Was the Governor General reluctant to stand aside?

HOWARD: Well we agreed, the answer’s no.

JOURNALIST: Did you talk him into it?

HOWARD: We agreed.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, do you see this as damaging your government at all?

HOWARD: Well whether my government is damaged is ultimately a matter for the Australian people. I never presume to tell the Australian people what they should think of my government, whether it is good or bad. The Australian people, they don’t get it wrong, the Australian people will judge my government according to its performance over a whole lot of things.

JOURNALIST: When did you decide that the Governor General…

HOWARD: Oh look we’re getting into the you know at 5.15 he walked from Kirribilli to Admiralty through the side gate. It wasn’t 5.15, I can assure you of that, it was somewhat later than that, I was still asleep at 5.15.

JOURNALIST: But had you decided on this course of action…

HOWARD: Look I’m not going into any of that. Any more questions?

JOURNALIST: …can you confirm reports that you knew about rape allegations?

HOWARD: I’ve already said that, I told the world that. Look what happened was that when he first got the letter from the solicitors saying, containing the allegations prior to the commencement of proceedings he immediately told me, he showed me the letter, that’s what he should of done and he said immediately well this is outrageous, you know I’ve not the faintest idea of who the person is or what it’s all about and as time went by he gave me further details as to how he it couldn’t have been him because he wasn’t in a certain parish. And I’ve got to tell you it was a very detailed emphatic denial.

JOURNALIST: And why didn’t he stand aside then?

HOWARD: Well because there was no reason, that means all you’ve got to do to get a prime minister or an opposition leader or a governor general or whatever to stand aside is to make an allegation, you cannot, I mean if we get into a situation in this country where anybody who holds a high office can be bullied and intimidated out of that office by allegations which may not have any substance in them, and I choose my words carefully, then you make the place ungovernable.

JOURNALIST: So it was only the lifting of the suppression order that meant that he had to stand aside?

HOWARD: No, not necessarily, it would have depended upon the ultimate outcome of the proceedings. As at some point they would have become public and there is a procedure for all of this and somebody provided information, presumably in breach of the suppression order, I mean somebody has been in contempt of that suppression order in making information available. I mean I can’t conceive that a question would have been put on notice without knowing what the answer is. One more question. No? Good, thanks.

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