One does not have to be associated with 'public life' for very long to experience the strident attacks of very confused and mean-minded persons whenever one expresses a view, or takes a position on something with which they disagree, or even simply exists, and thus offends their embittered prejudices.
The Governor General has now been attacked from every side, with much of the criticism reflecting hidden agendas quite unrelated to the original issue - his admitted 'error of judgement' in failing to dismiss a member of the Anglican Church in Queensland for sexual abuse of children over 20 years ago.
The recent report into Hollingworth's conduct 20 years ago by a special tribunal of the Anglican Church in Queensland compounds an attitude which is prevalent in religious groups - they have 'special laws' and considerations beyond those of society in general. We have similar arguments being put concerning the prospective application of 'aboriginal law'. A recent case before the Court in NSW had the defendant arguing that Jewish law should apply in the consideration of the repayment of a debt.
No doubt the decision by Archbishop Hollingworth reflected prevailing attitudes at the time which were widespread within the male-dominated Churches and for many Churches, that otherwise devout men are lead-on by precocious young girls and by "fallen" women. Right here in Canberra, today, there are instances of sexual assault on young women by laity of Churches and those poor young girls are pressured by the 'elders' of the Church to "keep it within the Church" and not bring shame onto the families concerned.
Just as it is obligatory, by law, for doctors to report to the police any sexual assaults on children - so it should be that all sexual assaults should be reported to the police for investigation. One flag, one people, one nation - equal before the law.
The subsequent bizarre allegations by a woman that she was raped over 40 years ago by the then Reverend Hollingworth is yet another example of the vexatious abuse of legal procedures by lawyers to extort money - much the same as outlined in my recent article in CapitalR in relation to medical indemnity.
One might have thought the lawyers representing the woman in the Hollingworth matter might have thought, just for a moment, that: "Hey! Before we create a constitutional crisis and attack the Head of State of this country based on the allegations of a self-admitted drug addict and long-term psychiatric patient, could all this be true?"
But of course not. Instead they file their claim. The woman commits suicide. But still they persist. One can see the next move. Claiming that, while convinced of the veracity of the women's claim they have, in deference to the family of the deceased, withdrawn the action. There really has to be some tightening of the law on the obligations of persons and lawyers to use the Courts, in their opening procedures, to destroy a person's character and/or extort money as a basis for dropping the claim without attempting to develop a substantive chain of evidentiary proof.
It has been truly breathtaking to see senior members of the Labor Party standing in Parliament and sadly regretting that the failure of Hollingworth to resign has damaged the "institution of the Governor-General" - when they have been doing everything possible to destroy the concept of a Governor-General as an institution and achieve a Republic headed by a President.
The pro-Republic forces on also the Liberal side did not hesitate to attack, with the [now] Minister for Tourism, Joe Hockey, urging the G-G's resignation for an 'error of judgement'. If ever there was a person in this Parliament who made an 'error of judgement' it was Joe Hockey in his former role as Minister assisting the Treasurer. To the extent to which the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority [APRA] was responsible, as it failed to move on the HIH insurance collapse - the largest-ever corporate failure in Australia, Hockey was the Minister. The ever-widening financial impacts of failing to intervene in this debacle continue and will be played out for years. - "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone". And the Treasurer, Peter Costello, scarcely displayed a statesmanlike, Prime-Minister-in-waiting image, with his veiled oblique criticisms of the G-G.
Of course the Leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, and that rebel from another era, Germaine Greer, immediately leapt in to attack the Governor General and in virtually the same breath got on to their "Australia should be a Republic" hobbyhorse.
It does raise an interesting aspect though - not that they would wish to hear it. In the Republic of the USA, that country's highly codified form of Government has resulted in witch-hunt reviews of the private lives of both persons in office such as Bill Clinton - which paralysed the processes of Government - and into the distant past of so many prospective applicants for high office. The associated trial by media, lynch-mob mentality that simmers just below the surface of American public life is not something we wish to encourage in Australia.
John Howard has again demonstrated he is a resolute leader that will not be stampeded by populist attitudes and media campaigns. All that said, John Howard took an enormous risk in selecting a major religious figure for the role of Governor General. It was, from the very beginning, an unusual appointment which at the very least blurred the historical divisions between Church and State - concepts of the institutions of Government which go to the very heart of our Westminster democratic system. It must have inevitably raised the issue that at some later date, other religious orders will explore the aspect of when they might be given 'their turn'. This concept of political tokenism has bedevilled politics in the USA where so many appointments are subject to outrageous trade-offs of ever-more unacceptable appointments for others such as budgetary kick-backs, and policy stances that appease vocal minorities and ignore mainstream attitudes.
The fundamental issue now facing Government, and the Governor General, is to ensure a resignation that both provides no comfort to those who would seek to destroy a fundamental part of democracy - and then seek to replace it with some undefined concept of their own - and which does not allow some concept of trial-by-media to flourish in this country.
22 May 2003