Peter Hollingworth was called to give evidence at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones
Peter Hollingworth was called to give evidence at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones

$600k a year for paedophile ‘protector’

OPINION

FORMER Australian governor-general Dr Peter Hollingworth should be stripped of his $600,000 a year entitlement after it was found he protected paedophiles during his time as Anglican Archbishop.

In 2003, Dr Peter Hollingworth resigned as governor-general in disgrace after a church report into his mishandling of multiple cases of child abuse during the 11 years he was archbishop of the Anglican Church was tabled in Parliament.

Last year, the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse looked into Dr Hollingworth's conduct when he was archbishop and found he made a "serious error in judgment" allowing a rector who admitted he had abused a child to continue serving in the ministry.

Yet as a former governor-general, he continues to receive the huge sum of money from the public purse.

A coalition of six sexual abuse survivor groups have written to the Prime Minister today to call for Dr Hollingworth to be stripped of his entitlements.

The letter, from groups including End Rape on Campus - of which I am director - is calling for a change to the Governor-General Act to include a code of conduct and good character test.

Dr Peter Hollingworth served as the Anglican archbishop of Queensland before being named governor-general.
Dr Peter Hollingworth served as the Anglican archbishop of Queensland before being named governor-general.

At the time of his resignation, Dr Hollingworth had served less than two years in the role of governor-general. (Former prime minister John Howard later admitted to having done no background check before appointing him to the position.)

But since his resignation, Dr Hollingworth has continued to live off the public purse.

A freedom of information request found he received the benefit of more than $600,000 in 2016 alone. This included an allowance of about $328,000 and a further $276,000 spent on travel, staff and office expenses, for his flashy office at 101 Collins St in Melbourne's CBD.

To put those figures in context, children and others who were molested and raped by clergy members can receive a maximum payout under the National Redress Scheme of $150,000. It's anticipated that the average payment for survivors of clergy abuse amounts to about $65,000.

What is equally appalling is that due to the ongoing impacts of post traumatic stress disorder - many of which span a lifetime - a significant number of these victims already live below the poverty line.

What sort of message does it send to victims of institutional abuse when their own tax dollars are contributing to the obscene income of a man who protected the employment of paedophiles?

Indeed, in one letter to notorious paedophile Reverend John Elliot, dated November 1993, Dr Hollingworth wrote that having given the paedophile's situation "long and prayerful thought" he had concluded that "no good purpose can be served in my requiring you to relinquish your pastoral responsibility as rector of Dalby".

"The matter which has exercised my mind most strongly is the fact that your departure at this stage could cause unintended consequences that would make things worse for you and the church," Dr Hollingworth wrote.

"The major difficulty is that, in not taking disciplinary action, I and the church could subsequently be charged with culpability while at the same time an act of removing you would place you in an impossible situation at your age and stage in life.

"I therefore propose the following:

"Firstly that you give a clear and written undertaking to me that you will not establish or have any close association with (Church of England Boy's School) groups or similar kinds of groups for boys. Secondly that when in the presence of young boys you always have someone else with you. And thirdly that you take the option to retire at 65.

"This action differs from the advice given to me by Dr Slaughter (a consultant psychiatrist) who is of the view that your problem is something which keeps recurring and is likely to happen again."

The public money Dr Hollingworth receives is paid under the Governor-General Act. At the time of drafting the legislation in 1974, the Parliament did not foresee a circumstance where a former governor-general would be accused of betraying the public trust so severely and so the legislation contains no provision to stop ongoing payments.

Understandably, victims and survivor advocates are frustrated.

Peter Hollingworth was called to give evidence at the royal commission. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones
Peter Hollingworth was called to give evidence at the royal commission. Picture: Nikki Davis-Jones

This is why we have written to the Prime Minister, calling on him to change the Act and strip Dr Hollingworth of his entitlements.

The open letter has been sent by a coalition of anti-sexual assault organisations: Bravehearts, Blue Knot Foundation, Care Leavers Australasia Network, Beyond Abuse, the Queensland Child Sexual Abuse Legislative Reform Council and End Rape On Campus Australia.

As it stands, under existing legislation, any former governor-general could hypothetically be convicted of a crime and imprisoned, and the government would be obliged to continue paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money each year. Dr Hollingworth has not been convicted of any crime.

At a time when ordinary Australians are working harder than ever, with energy, petrol and food prices constantly rising, and the taxpayer bearing the burden of the enormous cost of untreated child abuse - estimated to cost $6 billion per year - it is not in the public interest that the taxpayer also continue to fund an individual who stands accused of protecting paedophiles.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is scheduled to give a national apology to victims of institutional abuse next Monday, as a result of the royal commission.

The national apology has been a long time coming for the thousands of abuse survivors across the country, and at least 800 victim-survivors are expected to make the trip to Canberra to attend in person.

While this apology is a momentous occasion for many in the survivor community, the government must remember that actions speak louder than words. If the government is sincere in its commitment to supporting the survivor community, it must ensure its actions align with its words and intentions.

Stripping an 83-year-old of his perks and entitlements may seem like an empty symbolic gesture. But for survivors whose lives have been impacted by Dr Hollingworth's actions, and for any individuals out there who are covering up sexual abuse of children, it would send a vital message that actions do in fact have consequences.

And that as a community, we will not stand by and support those who fail to protect children from abuse.

News.com.au contacted Dr Hollingworth's office for comment, but hadn't received a response at the time of publication.

Nina Funnell is a Walkley Award-winning journalist and anti-sexual assault advocate



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