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Governor-General Peter Hollingworth’s Farewell Address

This is the text of the televised address to the nation by the Governor-General, Dr. Peter Hollingworth.

The Governor-General’s resignation takes effect at midnight tonight.

  • Listen to Hollingworth’s Address:

Farewell Address by Governor-General Dr. Peter Hollingworth.

Peter HollingworthMy decision to resign as Governor-General was taken after long and soul searching consideration which finally came to an end last week. I weighed up the obligations of the Governor-General, sworn in the solemn oath of office “I do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors according to law and that I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Commonwealth of Australia without fear or favour, affection or ill will, so help me God.” Could I fulfill that oath?

It has been the highest of honours and the humblest of privileges to have served as Governor-General of this great and wonderful nation. As Ann and I have gone about our work across the length and breadth of Australia, in the cities and towns, and in the country and the outback, we never cease to marvel at the decency, the spirit and the tremendous accomplishment of Australians in every facet of human endeavour.

I came to office nearly two years ago, believing that I could do something worthwhile by serving the Australian people. When the Prime Minister asked me, I responded to an exciting new challenge in the last stage of my working life.

I did not think there was anything in my past Ministry that would cause a problem for others or for me. If I did, I would certainly not have accepted his invitation. The controversial matters which have now come to light did so several months after I had been in office.

I repeat again tonight what I have always believed. All kinds of abuse and especially the sexual abuse of children is totally abhorrent to me. Not only is it always inexcusable, it is particularly reprehensible when people who have a special responsibility to nurture and protect children abuse that trust for whatever reason.

As Archbishop of Brisbane I was called upon to deal with many pastoral problems and in 1993 I was confronted with a particular case in which I dealt with an allegation of child sex abuse which had occurred many years earlier.

When the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane announced its inquiry into this and other cases I publicly welcomed the initiative and sought to co-operate in every way possible. The Board’s report made no findings of personal misconduct against me and in the main exonerated me of all the allegations except this one, where the Board of Inquiry was highly critical.

Although acting in good faith, I accept that the decision I made at the time was not the one I would make today. I truly regret the way the matter was handled and I apologize to those involved who have suffered as a consequence.

I express the same profound regret about another matter on the ABC’s Australian Story which caused distress. I too was distressed at the way this came out, because it was never my intention either to condone sexual relations between an adult and an underage young person or to blame the victim in such cases.

Many of my critics have pressed me to offer up my commission to protect the office of the Governor-General from damage.

However, it is my conviction that the office is not necessarily protected from damage or harm by bowing to popularly generated controversy at any particular time.

Equally, damage can be done to any office by removing people from it without there being very good reason.

My incumbency in the office of Governor-General has received sustained criticism in the past months over these and other issues. That this has occurred without serious impact upon the conduct of its constitutional responsibilities, has been evidence of its incredible strength and resilience as an institution within our constitutional system.

I did not take the decision to resign lightly and certainly not in the belief that my failure to do so would weaken the office of Governor-General. Rather, it is because the continuing controversy surrounding me, has made the effective discharge of my community role very difficult to fulfill.

Throughout my commission, as in all aspects of my life, I have sought to carry out my responsibilities faithfully, professionally and with dedication and enthusiasm.

It is my hope that my resignation will demonstrate not only my commitment to the office of Governor-General and the service of the people of Australia, but also the need to place the highest priority upon our most vulnerable members – our children and their protection.

I was not and am not in any doubt about the seriousness of child abuse and my error of judgment. It is clear that in the past many institutions including churches badly mishandled incidents of sexual abuse. We all have to learn from these tragic mistakes and then try to improve the quality of care and safety for all our children.

Over 40 years experience in the social welfare field tells me that as a society we need to place most of our energies into the care and protection of children within families, where most abuse occurs.

In reaching this difficult and painful conclusion about my role as Governor-General I have been sustained by the love of my family and the thoughtful good wishes and sentiments of many thousands of Australians, most of whom, regrettably, I will not be able to meet and thank personally.

In particular, Ann, my wife and partner of over 43 years, has stood firmly and resolutely beside me despite her own battle with breast cancer and the relentless personal attacks made on me. Our three daughters and their families have also supported Ann and me in ways that only a devoted family can.

I want to thank everyone most sincerely for their great encouragement and prayerful support. Those expressions of love, affection and good will have reinforced my faith and been the source of my hope and renewed strength.

The hard fact I have had to face is that in at least one incident, though I acted in good faith, I got it wrong. Now the onus is on me to move forward and do something constructive to help Australia’s vulnerable children and their families.

The decision I have taken is right. I can do no other. In accordance with my oath of office I bear no ill will to anyone. The rest I leave to God and the judgment of history.

My prayers and good wishes will be with you always.


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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