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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14866

Ms MACKLIN (2:53 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Hasn't great damage been done to the office of Governor-General because you failed to take your own advice, delivered on 18 February 2002, that the allegations against Dr Hollingworth needed to be `placed under a very powerful magnifying glass and people should analyse them properly'? Instead, didn't you try to cover up the issue by stonewalling and claiming that your inaction was to protect the office of Governor-General—

The SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga is aware that last week I indicated that it was appropriate to address remarks through the chair.

Ms MACKLIN —Didn't the Prime Minister try to cover up the issue? Wasn't it the case that the issue was covered up, when the Prime Minister was asked a moral question about the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old, by the Prime Minister resorting to a legal defence, by the refusal of the government and the Prime Minister to hold a judicial inquiry—

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Jagajaga has the call. The member for Jagajaga has the opportunity to recommence her question at whatever point she feels appropriate. My earlier interruption was simply to say that it is obligatory under the standing orders that remarks be addressed through the chair. The reference should be to `the Prime Minister', not to `you'. I am not attempting to frustrate the member for Jagajaga; I merely want her to abide by the standing orders. She is entitled to be heard without interruption.

Ms MACKLIN —Prime Minister, isn't it the case that this issue was covered up through stonewalling and claiming that inaction was to protect the office of Governor-General, when the Prime Minister was asked a moral question about the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old, by resorting to a legal defence, by the Prime Minister's refusal to hold a judicial inquiry, by the Prime Minister's failure to table the Aspinall report in federal parliament, and then by the Prime Minister raising doubts about the findings of the Aspinall inquiry, citing concerns about natural justice? Prime Minister, doesn't this litany of inaction amount to a serious moral failure on your part?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The answer is no, no, no. I will deal with each question. Firstly, with regard to the damage to the office of Governor-General, I prefer the judgment of the most successful Labor leader in Australia—namely, the New South Wales Premier—who on radio this morning poured scorn on the idea that the matters surrounding Dr Hollingworth had damaged the office of Governor-General. In fact, I would venture the view that the way in which things have transpired has indicated the resilience and flexibility attaching to the office. So, far from it being manna from heaven for those who would want to change the system, it demonstrates one of the great strengths of the existing system—whether it is a monarchical or republican model. I might interpolate there that the New South Wales Premier's post-November 1999 view is still a republican view, but it is a view that says, essentially, that the office should be filled in precisely the same way as it is now under a republican model. I think the views of Bob Carr, who is the most successful Labor leader in Australia, are worth a bit of examination by the Labor Party.

The second question was whether I have stonewalled. You refer to a press conference in which, if you examine the press conference, I made clear my total distaste and repugnance for child abuse—absolutely, totally and without equivocation. I was merely, in answer to one question, observing what there had been under the old New South Wales Crimes Act. I had learnt the Crimes Act when I was at law school, as I was enjoined to do in order to pass the exam. I remember the provisions of the act and I was drawing attention to those.

As to my views on child sex abuse, through you, Mr Speaker, it is one thing to attack, as you have done, the handling of this issue by the Governor-General politically, as you have of me—and you are entitled to do that; I am fair game politically—but I want to make it very clear to those who sit opposite that I reject totally, utterly and with a great deal of energy any suggestion that I am soft on child abuse. Any suggestion that the Australian Labor Party, who sits opposite, occupies some kind of moral high ground on the behaviour of people in public life when it comes to these matters is wrong. Let us be sensible on this issue. Let us understand that dealing with something as repugnant as child abuse ought to be something that transcends the political divide. Don't you try to grubbily drag—

The SPEAKER —Prime Minister! The Prime Minister has the call. I was merely indicating to the Prime Minister that, once again, his remarks should be addressed through the chair. It was for that remark that I simply called the Prime Minister.

Mr HOWARD —I apologise to you, Mr Speaker. I say to the opposition, through you: if you are really concerned about child abuse, do not try to divide it on political grounds. I do not question your repugnance at and detestation of it. I do not contest the repugnance of the opposition towards child abuse. I do not question the repugnance of the Leader of the Opposition towards it, and I would invite those who sit opposite not to question the motives of those who sit on this side of the House or they might be reminded of some failures in relation to former colleagues.