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Trial by media? Give Peter Hollingworth a break

By Barbara Biggs - posted Wednesday, 25 May 2005

Like many Australians, I shook my head with surprise when I read Peter Hollingworth’s interview in the Bulletin magazine.

The fall guy? A secular backlash that lead to his downfall? I don’t think so. But then when I read the ensuing criticism of the man, and read what else he was saying, I thought, give it a rest.

Here is a man who wants to put his mistakes behind him. And, more importantly, in an environment where still so few politicians or others want to truly confront the enormity of the plague of child sexual abuse in our society, he wants to help.


Here is a man with contacts, a lifetime of experience in the helping profession through the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, a swag of philanthropic trusts who still believe in him, and negative public opinion is tying his hands.

If one person, for whatever reason, wants to put their weight, energies and vast experience behind this issue to effect change, who is anybody to say “you’re not good enough”?

Two years ago, I was one who jumped on the bandwagon and wrote an opinion piece calling for Hollingworth’s resignation. But instead of condemning the man, I took action. I saw an opportunity in a man ready for change. And, through suffering - the only path to real change - I saw him embrace the issue of child sexual abuse.

I dropped off my book about my own abuse to Government House days before he left and challenged him to read it and educate himself about the issue. To his credit, he did this. Much to my amazement, he contacted me to talk about the issue, which we did perhaps a dozen times.

As a result of our talks he wrote the foreword to the sequel of my story and launched the book. He stuck his neck out again. He was always afraid that his involvement would detract from publicising my story - but he did it anyway.

Even back then, a year ago, in some of our meetings, Hollingworth was barely hanging in there. As the book launch date drew near, I would see his lips and jaw quiver sometimes as he talked about his terror at facing the media again.


It turned out he knew the media better than me, a journo. He put his hand up to bring attention to a book that would shed light on the complex emotional involvement victims have with their abusers, and it backfired. While he received criticism after his launch speech, the book got almost no publicity. Three weeks after the launch, the book had sold only 300 copies.

In my talks with Hollingworth, we met with several organisations with a view to him becoming involved in helping victims of child sexual abuse and raising awareness about the problem through advertising campaigns. All the organisations invited to the meetings at his swank office in Collins Street, Melbourne later sent letters or envoys saying they didn’t want to be associated with him.

Here is a man being paid handsomely to sit in this office. He has a secretary. He has resources, energy, passion and drive to do good.

I say give the man a break. Give him some slack, and let’s see what he can do. It’s my belief that what Hollingworth wants more than anything else, is to garner back his good name.

He had it for 20 years, and now it’s gone. No matter what he says, does or wants to do, we’re not letting him move on to help the underdog, but this time in an area where almost no-one else wants to get involved.

He may not entirely get the issue of child sexual abuse, but I do. And I’d say there are only few people out there who haven’t directly experienced it who really do wholly get it. Certainly a heap of judges don’t. Even some child protection agencies don’t. I’m no Christian, but I’d say to anyone who wants to keep throwing the stones, let he who is free of sin throw the first.

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First published in the Canberra Times on May 21, 2005.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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