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Opposition Senate motion criticising the Governor-General may also call for a royal commission into child sexual abuse.

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Tuesday 13 May 2003

Opposition Senate motion criticising the Governor-General may also call for a royal commission into child sexual abuse.


LINDA MOTTRAM: Rivalling the budget in the nati onal debate are the issues that have swept up the Governor-General and plunged his future into question. Most immediately, there's the question of getting into place Doctor Peter Hollingworth's stand-in, as the Governor-General relinquishes his role temporarily to defend himself against rape claims.  


With the Queen's approval of a change to the Letters Patent, the documents which outline her representatives' duties, the way has quickly been cleared for the Governor of Tasmania, Sir Guy Green, to take over as soon as the Prime Minister officially installs him. 


But with the official installation, Australian taxpayers will find themselves paying for two Governors-General. 


Rafael Epstein reports.  


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: In stepping aside the Governor-General has put in place a complex and arcane bureaucratic process. The Letters Patent, issued by Queen Victoria, only covers a stand-in for the Governor-General when he's out of the country, on holiday or incapacitated.  


Yesterday, the Queen wrote back to the Prime Minister approving a change in the Letters Patent to give Dr Hollingworth the legal ability to step aside. 


The University of Adelaide's constitutional expert, Dr John Williams, says the change gives the Prime Minister more power over the Governor-General. 


JOHN WILLIAMS: I think it creates a new situation and it's no doubt now that the Letters Patent have been changed, the idea of standing down or standing aside will now be part of the debate if ever we get around to having another, sort of, such crisis about what a Governor-General should do. 


So it certainly has created a new precedent. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: And it does allow a future Prime Minister to demand that a Governor-General step aside if circumstances warrant it? 


JOHN WILLIAMS: Well certainly can push them in that direction. There's a possibility now that the Prime Minister could request of the Governor-General, as the situation we've created, to step aside, yes. 


RAFAEL EPSTEIN: This morning Dr Hollingworth is still technically an active Governor-General, but the Government will not ask him to sign any official documents and he won't attend any official functions. 


But the housekeepers and servants at Yarralumla will be busy, effectively looking after two Governors-General.  


Dr Hollingworth and his wife Anne, will share the dining room with Sir Guy Green and his wife Rossyln. There are a number of guest suites, but the Administrator of the Commonwealth, as Sir Guy will be known, will stay with his wife in the suite normally used by the Queen. And both couples will remain there until Dr Hollingworth resumes his duties. 


But before Sir Guy can officially become Administrator, the Prime Minister has to write to the Premier of Tasmania and the Premier writes to the Tasmanian Governor, asking him to assent to stepping in as Governor-General.  


The paper trail then goes back, via the Tasmanian Premier, and it all becomes official only when the paper trail and the Queen's revised Letters Patent are gazetted, made public and Mr Howard makes an announcement. 


LINDA MOTTRAM: Rafael Esptein reporting there and the Prime Minister's office says that that announcement is expected in a few days.