IT is a sound constitutional principle that a governor-general should never be dismissed except for misbehaviour in office, or for moral turpitude. Go to online feedback This has long been observed throughout the Commonwealth. Many years ago, the Queen's grandfather, George V, declined to accept advice in breach of this. This principle was best enunciated by John Howard when he responded to earlier demands that he move against Peter Hollingworth. That campaign had been so vicious, so dominating and so one-sided that a casual observer could have believed the worst of the Governor-General. I remember asking a shopkeeper and his assistants about this. I was astounded by their response. They had confused him with the bishop who as a young priest had abused an underage girl in his care. (It may come as a surprise to some readers, but a large number of our fellow citizens are quite content to rely for news only on their daily television bulletin.)
Although Howard's ruling disappointed those commentators gleefully predicting the end of the road for the Governor-General, it has the potential to be cited as authority as long as the Westminster system lasts. And the reason for this principle is to provide to a governorgeneral the degree of protection he may need to act against a prime minister acting
unconstitutionally. This follows from the constitutional intermingling of the executive and legislative powers. The Australian crown provides the first line of checks and balances against any abuse that may result from this concentration of power. It is clear that Australians instinctively appreciate this. They do not want a system in which it would be easier for a prime minister to sack the head of state than his driver. They said so in 1999, when the republic referendum was defeated in all states and 72 per cent of electorates. But if he should not be dismissed, should the Governor-General resign? The answer must be an unequivocal "no". Just as a governor-general, judge, or any other public official should never be removed because of a vicious campaign, nor should he surrender, however personally unpleasant the circumstances. To do otherwise is to hand the governance of this country to unelected cliques. In any event, the report of the independent inquiry of the Diocese of Brisbane has now completely cleared the Governor-General of the wild and exaggerated claims made against him. Their only criticism against him relates to his handling of two cases. In one, where he had acted on legal. advice, it was said that he could have ,expressed compassion. Yet when the Queensland Government made no admissions and fought all the way to the High Court to deny any liability for the most appalling cases involving the abuse of school students by a teacher who became an MP, there was barely a peep from the campaigners. Perhaps this case should be on their website too. The other criticism was in allowing a priest to continue in office, albeit subject to stringent conditions. This was one in what must have been many matters where, after careful consideration, he would have had to come to a decision. Lacking that marvellous asset, hindsight, he has been found to have erred. And which one of us could honestly say they have never committed an error of judgment?
Which former governor-general, judge, politician, or indeed which of the commentariat, can honestly say they do not regret some decision? Only those who have never had to make a difficult decision. This one error of judgment does not even approach the requisite degree of moral turpitude, of wickedness and evil, which could lead to his departure. Hollingworth is a very decent man, a fact long recognised by many of those who subsequently rushed to join the pack baying for his blood. Indeed, when he was appointed, almost the only reservation came from those who objected to a clergyman. That they had been silent when clerics were previously appointed as governors – not once but on three occasions – is yet another indication that from its very beginning, this campaign was tainted. As long-time editor and publisher Greg Hywood has indicated, the real target was never the Governor-General. And it still is the man who recommended him.
David Flint is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Technology, Sydney, nationalconvenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy and author of The Cane Toad Republic (Wakefield Press, 1999).
FEEDBACK: David Flint, you have hit the nail right on the head. This media feeding frenzy has nothing todo with concern for the victims of paedophilic priests. It concerns the implied right of themedia to viciously attack and vilify a person who has spent their life in service to thecommunity, whilst never being elected to the Parliament.The role of the media is to inform, not propagandise, and it does itself a grave disservice byits actions over this entire affair. I believe the media is out of control, and if necessary, lawsshould be passed to make it more responsible. They have abused the privileges given to itby a democratic society. And it won't do it with my money.Robert SewellParaburdoo, WA I agree, wholeheartedly. I hope John Howard sticks by his decision not to sack theGovernor-General. There is no reason to and the vindictiveness of some people knows nobounds.Ruth GillAdelaide, SA Professor Flint rightly fingers anti-Howardism as the real impetus of this typicallyhypocritical leftwing lynch mob. Few issues are currently more plagued with "wise after theevent-ism" than this. That the G-G acted on professional advice, without any officialdemurrals, when making his two "hanging offence" decisions is reason enough for fair mindedpeople to want the matter dropped.Just think what his detractors would say if they were speaking of a Labor appointee ordarling of the chattering classes. The same standard rightly applies here.
Lew Bretz St Marys, TAS