There are now grounds for the Governor-General, Dr
Peter Hollingworth, to resign. He should do so in recognition
of the fact that he is no longer able to fulfil his
constitutional duties. This assessment is separate from
the ongoing media debate about morality and ethics that
goes to the heart of what Australians expect of the
Hollingworth's decision to allow a priest to remain
in the ministry after an admission of sexual abuse may
make him unfit to be Governor-General. Certainly, many
Australians have formed a judgement against him on this
Others believe that he may have committed no more
than a serious error of judgment. In the words of the
Prime Minister, he may not have been guilty of any moral
Without the Constitution setting down criteria or
a just and open procedure for dismissal, it is difficult
to determine whether Hollingworth should resign or have
his commission terminated on the basis of these issues.
Much comes down to politics and public opinion, an
unfortunate situation given that the position should
be above partisanship.
Notwithstanding this, Hollingworth should resign
because he is no longer able to do the job. Whether
this is a fair outcome, given that there has been no
government inquiry and instead a media trial, is beside
Hollingworth has become compromised. In addition,
long-term damage is being done to the institution of
Hollingworth has two roles as Governor-General. First,
he must be a person who can undertake the symbolic aspects
of the office. He should strive to unite the nation
at times of national crisis or grief and must be able
to represent us overseas. Indeed, since the term of
Sir William Deane and the 1999 republic referendum,
many Australians now see the governor-general as our
de facto head of state.
For this, he requires the broad confidence and support
of the Australian people. Hollingworth now clearly lacks
this, with polls showing that an overwhelming number
of Australians believe he should resign.
In a poll of 1400 people published in The Sydney
Morning Herald last week, less than one in five
said Hollingworth should remain in the job.
Second, the governor-general may act as umpire in
times of constitutional crisis. His broad and undefined
reserve powers mean he could be called upon to dismiss
a prime minister or to determine who should form government
after a close election. To exercise such powers, he
must be above politics.
A crisis could be deepened if the governor-general
might be thought, even incorrectly, to favour a party
over another party that would dismiss him. He must not
only be impartial but must be seen to be so.
The Governor-General has lost the confidence of the
Opposition. Simon Crean, the alternative prime minister,
has called for him to be dismissed in the best interests
of the nation and the office of governor-general. It
is now difficult for Hollingworth to be seen as impartial
between John Howard, who has said that he will not dismiss
him, and Crean, who has said that he will.
The controversy and media debate that has enveloped
the Governor-General has not always been fair and has
often been undignified for a position that many regard
as our de facto head of state. In the process, the office
has been damaged and the incumbent compromised. As a
consequence, Hollingworth should resign.
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