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Opposition Leader discusses resignation of Dr Peter Hollingworth; and appointment of next governor-general.



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AM

 

Thursday 26 May 2003

Opposition Leader discusses resignation of Dr Peter Hollingworth; and appointment of next governor-general

 

ELEANOR HALL: Well, Opposition Leader, Simo n Crean withdrew his support from the Governor-General back in February last year, and Simon Crean now says Labor should be consulted about the next appointment. 

 

This morning, Mr Crean joins us in our Canberra studio and he's speaking to our Chief Political Correspondent, Catherine McGrath.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Simon Crean, good morning.  

 

SIMON CREAN: Morning Catherine.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you feel some sympathy this morning for Dr Hollingworth?  

 

SIMON CREAN: I think that there's lots of questions where sympathy needs to be extended, Catherine, and most of all the sympathy must always be out there for the victims of child sex abuse.  

 

You see, the Prime Minister and the Governor-General still don't get it. The reason the Governor-General's gone is because you can't have people in authority who have covered up for child abuse. It's as simple as that. Now this should have been recognised certainly back in February of last year when the allegations first surfaced. But this was a serious error of judgement on the Prime Minister's part.  

 

When he appointed Archbishop Hollingworth he should have made checks. I mean, if you read the reports, these allegations go back into the early '90s. don't tell me that some sort of investigation wouldn't have turned up these concerns.  

 

So here we have a serious error of judgement on the part of the Prime Minister. It was revealed publicly in February of last year and that's when he should have acted. He didn't act. He then should have acted when it was known privately that rape allegations had been made. He acted when those rape allegations were made public, but he felt he could keep them secret.  

 

I mean, it's this culture of believing that if you don't tell anyone the problem goes away, it doesn't. And it's the sympathy quite frankly, Catherine, that has to go out to the victims of child sex abuse and that is why, not only was the resignation important, but it's why the bill that we're introducing into the Parliament today is also important: a bill that will do something to start stamping out child sex abuse in this country.  

 

We've got to learn from this, but we've also got to understand that the Prime Minister can't stand on the side and say that this was the Governor-General's decision and the Governor-General's decision alone. It wasn't. The Prime Minister appointed him, the Prime Minister has to take responsibility for it being the wrong appointment and he has to take responsibility for having failed to act 15 months ago and have dragged the office of Governor-General into the state that it's been over that whole period of time.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: For Dr Hollingworth himself though, clearly his career is destroyed, he would be very despondent today about his own future. Do you have some thoughts for him?  

 

SIMON CREAN: Of course I do because I've known him over many years and he has done important work for the community. I also have sympathy for the circumstances of his wife and I expressed those to the Governor-General at ANZAC Day. But, you know, there's a whole lot emotions going here. But the truth of it is we're dealing with the Head of State and the Head of State cannot be a person who has covered up for child sex abusers. 

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: So we look now to our next Head of State, you're asking for consultation. How would that work?  

 

SIMON CREAN: Well, look, the consultation dimension was merely one part. I'm saying that we've got to learn from this. The Prime Minister clearly got it wrong by being the only person involved, no checks were carried out. I think that there should be, particularly now that the office has to be healed, there needs to be some input, some wider input, not into making the decision but suggesting who appropriate people might be, and having perhaps a panel that recommends a short list to the Prime Minister.  

 

Now, I would like to think in the context of all of that, we might, the Opposition might be consulted. But it's not where I start. I start with the fact the Prime Minister's got it wrong, that we've got to heal the office, that we need greater transparency, and we need proper selection processes. In the end I'm happy for the Prime Minister to make the final judgement, but he has to make it on fuller information.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Do you want him to come to you with suggestions? What do you want?  

 

SIMON CREAN: Well, look, that is something for down the track, I've never put this as top of the list, but I would have thought that given that the Governor-General has to represent the nation, that there has to be a confidence in the broader community about the person who assumes this role, a wider input into names being suggested makes sense, the fact that you've got to have both sides of politics involved makes sense too. It would be a smart move.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Two popular figures whose names could come to you, Tim Fischer and Peter Cosgrove, how would you feel about them?  

 

SIMON CREAN: Well, look, let's, don't, let's not get silly about this Catherine. I mean, we have a circumstance in which the Governor-General has been forced to resign, we had a constitutional crisis for the last few days because we had two Governors-General. 

 

Where was the Prime Minister? He was in hiding. He wouldn't even stand by his man, but he wouldn't take the tough decision to terminate the farce. He went to the football on Sunday, but he still hasn't made a statement about the circumstances for the resignation. 

 

It is not good enough for him to say it's the Governor-General's decision alone. The Prime Minister appointed him. He got it wrong and he's had it wrong in the last 15 months. He's got to admit that he made the mistake and he's got to correct that mistake for the future in the interests of the nation.  

 

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Simon Crean, thanks for speaking to AM this morning.  

 

SIMON CREAN: My pleasure.  

 

ELEANOR HALL: Labor Leader, Simon Crean, with Catherine McGrath in Canberra.