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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14872

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (3:15 PM) —by leave—I move:

That this House censure the Prime Minister for his failure to make appropriate checks and inquiries before his appointment of Dr Hollingworth as Governor-General and his failure to dismiss Dr Hollingworth once evidence of his actions in covering up a known paedophile became known. In particular, that this House censures the Prime Minister for:

1. his failure to understand that it is unacceptable for anyone in authority to cover up child sex abuse;

2. his failure to make proper checks and exercise proper judgment before appointing Dr Hollingworth;

3. his failure to terminate Dr Hollingworth's appointment in February last year when Dr Hollingworth admitted he acted inappropriately in the handling of child sex abuse cases;

4. his failure to terminate Dr Hollingworth's appointment when he appeared on Australian Story and implied that an inappropriate relationship between a priest and a 14 year old girl could be initiated by the child;

5. his failure to recognise what child sex abuse is and thereby condoning the cover-up of child sex abuse and the blaming of victims of child sex abuse;

6. his failure to terminate Dr Hollingworth's appointment when the Aspinall Report made further adverse findings against Dr Hollingworth;

7. his failure to confront allegations of rape and in seeking to cover them up;

8. his failure to terminate Dr Hollingworth's appointment for allegations that were proven, yet acting belatedly on allegations that were not proven but had become public;

9. his failure to speak to the Australian public immediately following Dr Hollingworth's resignation;

10. his failure to resolve the status of Dr Hollingworth's appointment immediately following the withdrawal of the allegation of rape made before the Supreme Court of Victoria; and

11. his failure to protect the integrity and dignity of the highest office in Australia by not admitting he got it wrong and by not displaying leadership in removing the Governor-General 15 months ago.

We have heard the Prime Minister say today that it was an error of judgment on the Governor-General's part. It was more than an error of judgment on the Governor-General's part. He covered up for a known paedophile; he has admitted it, and the Anglican Church found that to be the case. It does not matter whether this was in 2003 or in 1993. He failed in his duty. The simple proposition is that a person in authority should not be able to cover up for paedophilia. The error of judgment, Prime Minister, was yours: in appointing him in the first place, having failed to make the appropriate checks—we heard the Prime Minister duck and weave all through question time today about whom he consulted and what checks he made—and, fundamentally, in failing to act to remove the Governor-General when these allegations came to the fore in February 2002 and the Governor-General refused to resign.

We asked a number of questions today as to what checks the Prime Minister had made. What did we hear the Prime Minister admit? He consulted four of his colleagues. Prime Minister, we would like to know who those four colleagues are. We know the Treasurer was not one of them, because the Treasurer has already put you in it by saying you made this decision alone. Who were the four that you consulted? More importantly, you failed to address—

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition.

Mr CREAN —the question I asked in relation to inquiries that we believe the Prime Minister or his office made of the Anglican diocese of Brisbane concerning Dr Hollingworth's activities. Prime Minister, you made great play of the question of why you would be making those inquiries 12 months before. I specifically asked you whether, at any time within the 12 months prior to the appointment, such inquiries were made by you or on your behalf of any person within the organisation of the Anglican diocese of Brisbane concerning Dr Hollingworth's activities and performance in his role as Archbishop of Brisbane. I think, given what we know now in terms of the litany of allegations going back over a long period of time under Dr Hollingworth's stewardship, that it beggars belief that inquiries made would not have turned up something. What we want to know is what they did turn up.

The Prime Minister has been evasive every time he has been asked this question at press conferences, and he was evasive again today in question time. This—the very act of appointment, the first stage—does go to the Prime Minister's judgment and that is why this parliament is entitled to know. The Prime Minister is going to take this censure motion. So, now that I have had the opportunity to explain more fully what I have been after, the obligation is on the Prime Minister to explain what checks he made and what inquiries were made on his behalf, in particular of the Anglican diocese of Brisbane. And do not fudge it, Prime Minister. Answer the question. The Australian public is entitled to know, because it is your error of judgment that is at issue here. The Governor-General has resigned. The Prime Minister should have acted sooner to seek his termination. Of that there is no question, and I made this call in February 2002. But the truth of the matter is that we want to know what checks and inquiries were made at the beginning.

We then move on to the circumstances in which the allegations themselves became very public in February 2002. It was on 21 February that, on the basis of the information I had available, on the basis of discussions I had with the Governor-General and the Prime Minister, and on the basis of earlier conversations I had had with the Governor-General, I gave my advice as to the best way he should be dealing with this issue. I have no qualms about that. I was concerned that the office of Governor-General be protected, but I was more concerned that the victims of child sexual abuse be properly dealt with and that we deal with them in a humane way. A head of state who had been embroiled in controversy should have taken the lead in that regard and, whether that involved admitting all of the fault and saying that we had to move on and take steps beyond that, that was my advice to him at the time. He did not adopt that advice, and it is for him to make that judgment call.

I say that for this reason: I have no malevolence against the person, Dr Hollingworth. I do not. I have known him for many years and I have worked with him. I respect the work he has done for the community in the past. I have every sympathy for him in the current circumstances, particularly the circumstances of his wife's illness. But that is a completely separate issue from the failure of the archbishop to act on complaints which he established were true. He chose to exercise Christian forgiveness to the priest rather than carry out his pastoral responsibility to the victims. That is the fundamental problem with this: the Governor-General got it wrong. 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. The second error of judgment on the Prime Minister's part—his first was the failure to check the records—was the failure to act when he should have acted in February last year.

It was not just the allegations that the Governor-General admitted to. He then compounded the problem, while in office, in that famous episode of Australian Story, in suggesting it was the girl who commenced the relationship. This was totally wrong. In terms of the Prime Minister asking, `What has this man done wrong in the office of Governor-General?' that is one thing that he did dreadfully wrong. He sought to shift the blame, and he did it on television. He then compounded the problem at that bizarre doorstop just before he flew out of the country, as this first controversy was enmeshing the nation, back in February. That was another error of judgment by the Governor-General. We are used to these errors of judgment, but what we are not prepared to condone is the Prime Minister simply saying, `It was the Governor-General who made errors of judgment; I am a cleanskin.'

The Prime Minister's answer today that he did not seek the dismissal of the Governor-General but that it was for the Governor-General to decide goes to show that, if the Governor-General had dug in, we would still have him in office now. The Prime Minister, by his very answer today, is saying he would not have dismissed the man. Why? It is not because it would have been the correct decision to dismiss him; it is because he is too stubborn as Prime Minister. He knows he made a mistake but he will not admit it. The Prime Minister knows he made a mistake in the appointment and he knows he made the further mistake in failing to act back in February last year.

The simple truth is this: nothing new has emerged in the last 15 months that we did not know at the time the call for the Governor-General to resign was first made. I challenge the Prime Minister today to tell us what additional information there is that justifies a resignation today that did not justify a resignation 15 months ago. In the absence of a resignation today, if the Governor-General had failed to act, I believe it would have been appropriate for a dismissal to be made. The Prime Minister would have been under enormous pressure to do so. That is why he has been in hiding for the past three days, not wanting to be out there in public telling the Australian people what conversations he had with the Governor-General or telling the Governor-General that, if he did not act on his own, he would be forced to advise the Queen accordingly. This Prime Minister is so stubborn that he does not want to admit he got it wrong—he got it wrong about the appointment and he got it wrong about the call in February last year.

The huge issue around this is not just the Prime Minister's failure of judgment; it is the signal it sends to the victims of child sexual abuse. This Prime Minister is prepared to condone, in the highest office in the land, for 15 months after the problem is admitted publicly, a person who covered up for a known paedophile. This person, whose judgment was questioned in the Anglican church inquiry in terms of recall, fundamentally covered up for a known paedophile. What sort of a signal does it send to the Australian public, in particular to the victims of child sex abuse, when the Prime Minister continues to stand by his man and say that he has done nothing wrong? Covering up for a known paedophile is wrong, Prime Minister—you know it and everyone in Australia knows it. The problem is that you were prepared to condone it. That is what the Prime Minister stands guilty of today.

The Governor-General has gone, and should have gone a long time ago, but another important set of ramifications flows from the circumstances surrounding this. I will come to those in a minute, but I want to also make this very salient point. Why is it, Prime Minister, that you chose to stand aside the Governor-General for an allegation that was not proven but were not prepared to have him stood aside for an allegation that was proven? We all know now that the Prime Minister was told by the Governor-General in December that there was a rape allegation against the Governor-General. That was a completely separate issue from the circumstances that should have seen him resign back in February, but there was nevertheless another error of judgment by the Prime Minister. He had a belief that, if an allegation of rape against the head of state could be kept secret, you could get away with it. That was the Prime Minister's judgment, because as soon as the allegation became public the Prime Minister accepted that the Governor-General should stand aside. If it were true when it became public, why didn't he exercise that judgment when it was privately known to him? No-one else in the country knew about this back in December; I certainly did not know about it. But we know that the Prime Minister knew.

The Prime Minister's judgment to yet again cover up for his man, his appointment, has also been exposed. That is what the Prime Minister stands condemned for today, and that is why this censure should pass. This is the Prime Minister's judgment. His failure to act, his preparedness to cover up and his preparedness to sweep away proven allegations of paedophilia and the covering up associated with that send a signal to the Australian community.

There is another opportunity today, Prime Minister, in terms of dealing with the victims of child sexual abuse: to support the private member's bill introduced in this parliament today by the member for Gellibrand. It is a private member's bill that says that we as a community have to learn from this shocking episode and that we have to make a commitment to our families and to our young children that as best we can ensure it this will not happen again. It says we should establish a children's commissioner so at the national level we can coordinate the prosecution of these cases and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. It says we should establish a code of conduct that says that any organisations in receipt of Commonwealth funding have to sign up to a code which, amongst other things, requires that if allegations of child sexual abuse are made they have to be referred. Had such a code existed, Dr Hollingworth would have had no choice. He could not have exercised the Christian prerogative on its own; he would have had an obligation under a code that his church had signed up to to actually report it. The third thing we call for in this bill is a check such that parents in future know that anyone working with their kids has been given approval.

Mr CREAN —You might like to interject, I say to the member for Dawson, but this is a serious issue around the country. Whilst I am here today censuring the Prime Minister, I think it is terribly important that we put forward constructive initiatives. I hope that you listen to the content of them, because we will want to try and bring this legislation on for implementation. I hope in the spirit of bipartisanship arising from this tragic episode we can do something for the victims of child sexual abuse and say that it has not all been in vain. I hope we can say to them, `We cannot obliterate the pain that you have gone through, we cannot wipe out the hurt that you and your families have had to put up with, we can't make it easier for you to deal with the shame and the anger that has built up inside, but we can try and make sure it doesn't happen again.' That is why I say to you: look carefully at the bill that the member has introduced and be prepared to look objectively at this sorry, tawdry exercise so we can say, `We won't let it happen again.'

The other thing I would suggest to the Prime Minister—and I conclude on the point from which I began—goes to the question of the appointment of our next Governor-General. Let us learn from the mistakes. Let us not have a circumstance in which the Prime Minister consults just four unnamed colleagues—at least, that is all he has fessed up to. We will wait and see whom he really did consult and what advice he really got. I am suggesting that we put in place, and the Prime Minister agrees to, a new mechanism whereby we establish a consultative committee consisting of the head of his department, the most recent retired Chief Justice of the High Court and a community representative appointed by the Prime Minister to draw up a short list of candidates for Governor-General, that we advertise the position and draw expressions of interest that go to that committee and that the Prime Minister be left to appoint the Governor-General from the short list. If he appointed a candidate not on the short list, he would have to explain to the House the reasons why. This again is a constructive initiative to deal with the morass that we have come from. Most importantly, the Prime Minister deserves censure for the way in which he has terribly handled this. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?

Ms Macklin —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.