March 9th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

The Hollingworth Affair

Federal Cabinet decision on cloning

Media putsch overwhelms Governor-General

Will CHOGM bite the bullet, oust Mugabe?

Straws in the Wind: Rumpole arising

Environment: National parks are an unacceptable fire risk

Agriculture: Bar lowered on quarantine once again

Media: Crude but effective

Environmental optimism (letter)

Bias: in the eye of the beholder (letter)

Economics: Privatisation: the promise and the reality

Comment: Trust: a commodity in short supply

Culture: How the media exploits the US$150 billion American youth market

ASIA: WTO entry will put pressure on China-Taiwan ties

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The Hollingworth Affair

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, March 9, 2002

It is not without irony that after months of attacks, the media began portraying Dr Peter Hollingworth as a more unpopular Governor-General than even the 'despised' Sir John Kerr, the man who sacked Gough Whitlam in November, 1975.

There has clearly been a good deal of revenge in the campaign against Hollingworth - payback for 1975, payback for the failure of the Republican referendum, payback for Howard's asylum seeker election win, payback for Hollingworth's silence on the same issue, and finally payback for the great enemy of enlightened secular society, organised Christianity. There is also another element to the 'hunt to get Hollingworth' which may go some way to explaining the hyperbolic nature of media indignation about Hollingworth's alleged cover-ups of child abuse cases.

It is interesting that ordinary people, while abhoring child abusers and clerics who commit such evil acts, have also called the Hollingworth story a "witch-hunt" and a "media feeding frenzy".

They are uncomfortable about the affair, they know Hollingworth has erred, but are also not happy about the media's treatment of the victim and the media's hypocrisy on matters sexual.

In the "post-Christian" era, it was inevitable that warped views of the world would develop which would create strange aberrations in the way society as a whole would conduct itself. The Hollingworth episode is perhaps one small manifestation of that phenomena.

For years, teenage sex has been widely encouraged in schools, promiscuity promoted and teenagers who are still ambivalent about their sexuality are encouraged to 'come out'. Yet all hell breaks loose when a teacher/student liason is exposed.

The modern dogma of freedom of personal choice demands that almost anything goes in the sexual arena, and that all manner of deviant behaviour must not only be tolerated, but 'celebrated'.

The Ten Commandments have been transmogrified into a smaller group of strict thou-shalt-nots which refer only to the modern cardinal sins of racism, sexism and homophobia. At the same time, society somehow turns a blind eye to the annual culling of 100,000 unborn children. The result is that there is little sense of proportion, virtually no ability for objectivity, and complete over-reaction to some selected evil acts.

Add to this the vicious 24-hour news cycle where there is an insatiable appetite for constant news updates, breaking stories and fresh angles and you have an explosive mix of outraged moral indignation and demands for justice.

Yet, as vociferous as the campaign has been and as crude the methods used in this extraordinary episode of trial by media, it has become apparent to all but the most rusted-on supporter, that Howard should have thought twice about appointing Hollingworth in the first place.

Hollingworth must surely have known the scandalous sexual abuse cases which dogged his time as Brisbane's Archbishop would eventually have been dug up by the media.

He would surely have known every victim of sexual abuse was a walking time bomb who could suddenly speak out and embarrass him as Governor-General.

Yet vainly or stupidly, he took the job anyway. At the same time Prime Minister John Howard acted in a most uncharacteristicly reckless fashion when he chose an Anglican cleric for the Governor-General's job.

Hollingworth's name was absent from every speculative newspaper article in the lead-up to the appointment - something Howard gleefully noted when he made his announcement in April last year.

It seems Howard chose Hollingworth because he saw him as a kind of counterweight to the very Catholic Sir William Deane, who, despite his apparent popularity, also politicised the Governor-General's role.

Deane's outspokenness on many issues was applauded by the élites, but it often rankled the Howard Government. Hollingworth was meant to be a safe pair of hands who would be at least on the same conservative wave length as the Howard Government. Howard should clearly have been more thorough during the vetting process - he has whole departments of public servants and security officers who are supposed to act as Devil's Advocates and check for potential problems in such appointments.

And the Prime Minister should have been awake to the warning signs at the Constitutional Convention where Hollingworth's confused contribution of being in favour of a Republic, while being the Queen's man left most other participants distinctly underwhelmed.

The same woolly thinking has been exposed throughout the recent controversy - most notably during his disastrous appearance on the ABC Australian Story program - the one he had hoped would win him back to the Australian people. The Australian media might have been motivated by entirely the wrong reasons, but sadly, they were on the right track about Hollingworth being the wrong man for the job.

  • Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council

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