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Opposition Leader criticises Prime Minister for appointing Dr Hollingworth as Governor-General without adequate consultation; Prime Minister defends his decision.

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Monday 26 May 2003

Opposition Leader criticises Prime Minister for appointing Dr Hollingworth as Governor-General without adequate consultation; Prime Minister defends his decision


MARK COLVIN: And after the formal speeches came the bear pit of Parliamentary Question Time, with Labor turning its guns on the man who appointed the Governor-General. 


John Howard was the focus of every Opposition question; accused of making an
error of judgment in his choice of Dr Peter Hollingworth and then failing to act last year when the first allegations emerged that Dr Hollingworth had failed to respond to sex abuse claims. 


The Prime Minister hit back, warning Labor not to suggest that he's soft on child abuse, or he might be tempted to remind the Parliament of the behaviour of certain Labor MPs. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: For more than a year, Labor's insisted on the resignation of Dr Peter Hollingworth. With that now squared away, the Opposition's moved on to the Prime Minister, accusing Mr Howard too of making an error of judgment, in this case, in his choice of Governor-General. 


Simon Crean says Mr Howard should have known better. 


SIMON CREAN: I ask the Prime Minister what checks he made prior to appointing Dr Hollingworth as Governor-General? 


JOHN HOWARD: I did not engage in any formal vetting procedure. To my knowledge that has not been done in relation to any other appointments of Governors-General. I was well acquainted with Dr Hollingworth. He was a person who had become a public figure and I had not heard anything to suggest that he would be other than a totally suitable person. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But then Simon Crean reminded Mr Howard he'd previously said he'd sought appropriate counsel. 


JOHN HOWARD: I did in fact discuss his appointment with four of my senior colleagues. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Mr Howard's yet to reveal who's in the gang of four and what they told him. Labor then decided to rev up its attack, accusing Mr Howard of a cover up, claiming he should have dismissed Dr Hollingworth or made him stand aside back in February last year, when the allegations first came to light that Dr Hollingworth allowed a known paedophile in his church to continue preaching. 


SIMON CREAN: The Governor-General got it wrong. And he got it wrong some time ago. He admitted he got it wrong 15 months ago and yet he still remained in the position because the Prime Minister was prepared to cover up for him. 


JOHN HOWARD: He makes allegations of cover up. I didn't cover up anything in relation to the matters that came out in February of last year. Everything was on the record that had come out in February of last year. 


I made a judgment in February of last year that I was not required to act and I repeat for the benefit of the leader of the Opposition that the judgment was that the Governor-General had not behaved in a way since assuming his office to warrant my recommending to the Queen that his commission should be revoked. 


That judgment was right then, Mr Speaker, and it remained right until the time of his resignation, Mr Speaker.  


SIMON CREAN: He didn't seek the dismissal of the Governor-General. It was for the Governor-General to decide - goes to show that if the Governor-General had of dug in, we'd still have him in office now. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: With Labor accusing the Prime Minister of being stubborn, not wanting to admit that he got it wrong with Dr Hollingworth, John Howard opted for the front-footed approach. 


JOHN HOWARD: Of course I've been guilty of errors of judgment in my life. Who amongst us could stand before any audience in this country and say, "oh no, my judgment is always been flawless, I've always been absolutely perfect."  


None of us could honestly stand before their mirror or their Maker and possibly make that kind of assertion, Mr Speaker. I'm certainly not going to do that, Mr Speaker. I accept responsibility for Dr Hollingworth's appointment. I've never sought to avoid it. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Simon Crean's censure motion against the Prime Minister for failing to take action against the Governor-General suffered the same negative fate as all its other censure motions in the House of Representatives, where the Government commands a majority. 


MARK COLVIN: Alexandra Kirk reporting.