Governor-General Peter Hollingworth has compromised his office to an
unprecedented degree with his comments to departing Australian troops last
week, and he must resign his position. The office of Governor-General is
one that symbolises unity and complete independence from day-to-day
political debate, but Dr Hollingworth’s sanctioning of John Howard’s
position on the Iraqi crisis has torn those important criteria to shreds.
What Dr Hollingworth did last Thursday in Sydney was unprecedented –
and his intervention was entirely different in nature from those of the
two of his predecessors who have got themselves into hot water – John
Kerr and William Deane.
Let’s recap how it is that Dr Hollingworth has so comprehensively
destroyed the appearance of independence and unity of the office he
currently holds. During last Thursday’s farewell to troops, two
commercial television stations filmed Dr Hollingworth telling a group of
sailors: “Look, this is something that has to be done.” He is also
filmed saying: "I think it’s a matter of putting pressure on this
The Governor-General’s office sought to spin its way out these highly
political and partisan comments by noting that Dr Hollingworth was merely
speaking in support of Defence force personnel “as they carry out the
decisions of the government”.
Oh really? Well why is it that Dr Hollingworth uses the phrase “I
think it’s a matter of putting pressure on this dictator”? The reality
is that these comments were personal opinions being expressed by someone
about a political issue that is dividing this Nation more than any other
since the constitutional crisis of 1975.
And speaking of 1975, don’t excuse Dr Hollingworth by arguing that
John Kerr’s action in dismissing the Whitlam government and appointing
Liberal leader Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister, were also party
political. They were not. One might argue that Kerr did the wrong thing
constitutionally by sacking Whitlam but the fact is that Kerr was
exercising his powers as the Queen’s Representative to break a deadlock
between the Senate and the House of Representatives – in short, acting
as an umpire which is an important part of the office he then held.
Some media reports have also suggested that Dr Hollingworth’s
statements were in the genre of Sir William Deane’s speeches that
highlighted Indigenous suffering and in particular the plight of the ‘stolen
generation’. Again, there is a notable point of differentiation to be
What Bill Deane did during his tenure as Governor-General was to
recognise that because the Office was above party politics it could be
used to help recognise the need for Australia to be a socially cohesive
country. This is entirely in keeping with what the Office of
Governor-General’s own official website says is today “possibly the
most important role” of the Office. As an aside, this website also makes
specific mention of the Governor-General’s role in meeting with
Indigenous communities and individuals – Bill Deane did this and he
encouraged us as a people to do better. That’s not partisan politics,
its simply an appeal to common humanity.
It is also important to note that not once in his five-year tenure did
Bill Deane either endorse or criticise Keating or Howard government
Of course, it must be said that Dr Hollingworth was not on strong
ground when he waded into this controversy. Reporting his gaffes and lack
of judgement has been a media pastime for over 12 months. Almost a year
ago he was embroiled in a crisis that saw calls for his resignation by
some – this was over hisalleged inaction on sexual abuse allegations in
the Brisbane Anglican Church while he was Archbishop there. And he was
criticised by others (including this writer) for not returning from a
World War II anniversary in Egypt when the Bali bombing occurred. Finally,
there was the report that his VIP travel expenses were over 50 per cent
higher than his predecessor, Bill Deane.
While all of these events might demonstrate that Dr Hollingworth is not
up to the job, and that we need an appointment process for the holder of
this Office that is more democratic and transparent, they do not mean that
he should resign. None of this litany amounts to his so severely
compromising the essence of his role – independence from politics –
that he should resign.
In contrast to the previous controversies, however, on this occasion
the Governor-General has gone too far and he must resign. Anything short
of this will be an invitation to future Prime Ministers to appoint people
to this Office who feel that they can weigh in on the side of whichever
side of politics appoints them.
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