In January this year my thoughts turned to Peter
Hollingworth and I felt some empathy for him. It was
the English rock legend Peter Townshend that steered
me in the beleaguered G-Gs direction. I had written
a comment piece in The
Australian on the fact that Townshend was being
treated harshly by the criminal justice system and child
abuse groups in the UK. Townshend's alleged crime was
to have downloaded some child porn from the Internet
in his own home. Their was no suggestion that anyone
else had seen the material. I speculated in this piece
on whether or not Townshend should, in these circumstances,
be subject to the criminal law. Shouldn't the criminal
law go after the source of the material - those unscrupulous
and evil individuals that exploit children sexually
and place material on the Internet?
Townshend has subsequently been cleared of any wrongdoing.
His case helped to highlight in the UK how the criminal
law in this area, if used indiscriminately, can cause
injustice. A woman wrote to The
Guardian newspaper to tell of her naive teenage
son who went to jail for downloading child porn in his
But this is simply an aside. The issue here is the
reaction that my article caused. Two days after I wrote
it, I spoke to the Australian Democrats National Conference
in Sydney. I was told at the conference that some people
were circulating copies of my Australian article
and were demanding that I be censured or sacked from
the Party. After I finished my speech on campaigning
the questions from the floor were decidedly hostile.
They had a touch of the Salem witch hunts about them
- they were aiders and abetters of the anti-child abuse
campaigning group, Bravehearts.
Questioner after questioner told me that my article
was highly damaging, that I was sanctioning child abuse,
and that I should publically apologise for it and write
a letter to The Australian retracting all that
I had written.
Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed and I left the
conference unscathed and unbowed - it renewed my faith
in the Democrats as the only party in this country that
allows genuine freedom of speech among its members.
But this wasn't the end of the matter. I was helping
the NSW Democrats election campaign and the State leader
of the Party, Arthur Chesterfield-Evans, an indefatigable
campaigner on child abuse, received none too subtle
threats indicating that I should be removed from the
campaign team. These threats came from Bravehearts head
honcho, Hetty Johnson. Mr Chesterfield-Evans rightly
pointed to the Democrats leadership role on investigating
of child abuse in New South Wales and resisted Ms Johnson's
In fact, I spoke with Ms Johnson myself. It was a
civil conversation in which we agreed to disagree. But
one element of it sticks in my mind. I asked Ms Johnson
whether Bravehearts was involved in trying to end the
appalling child abuse that occurs daily in our infamous
detention centres? No she said, she leaves that work
to others. In other words, she's selective about which
children she helps.
Ms Johnson and her cohorts used an Internet chatroom,
to continue their campaign against me. Once again, I
was accused of sanctioning child abuse. I got a message
through to the owners of that chatroom that I would
sue for defamation if these emails did not cease - they
Thus my sympathy for Hollingworth. It is not that
I sanction his seemingly inadequate and insensitive
response to the systemic problem of child abuse in the
Anglican Church - he should take the view that if there
is evidence of child abuse then it must be stamped out
immediately and the source of the problem removed.
But I do empathise with Hollingworth as regards
the treatment meted out to him by Ms Johnson and other
child-abuse campaigners. These people have no sense
of proportion. They make accusations, prosecute their
case with extraordinary vigour and use any and every
method to discredit individuals who they put in the
gun. They have no sense of procedural fairness or that
the innocent are just that until the prosecution proves
Bravehearts is an organisation that does enormous
good in exposing a vice in our community that has horrific
consequences and, worst of all, helpless victims. But
Bravehearts is selective as I noted - it has done nothing
on the issue of daily abuse of children committed by
the Howard government in its detention centres. As I
said to Hetty Johnson, putting a child in a detention
centre is abuse!
In this deeply emotional area of public policy we
must remember that the basic liberties and rules of
fairness should not be cast aside - Dr Hollingworth
has been charged with no offence, he has been found
by a church inquiry, not a court of law, to have failed
in his duty as a church leader. There is not suggestion
that Mr Hollingworth sanctions child abuse in any form.
Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett is right to call
for a Royal Commission on Child Abuse. Only a Royal
Commission, informed by facts and evidence and not finger-pointing,
can help our society determine the extent of the problem,
who is to blame, and what public-policy responses will
be most effective in dealing with its prevention. Bravehearts
can have their day "in court" like anyone
else at a Royal Commission and this would be far preferable
to their current tactic of zero tolerance towards any
one who dissents from their line on the matter.
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