Surreality TV


The crisis surrounding our embattled Governor-General continues to descend, somewhat predictably, into a nauseating mixture of tragedy, comedy and farce.

Like a lot of people, I was pretty stunned by last night’s bombshell TV performance by "Dr" Hollingworth (he has about as much claim to the title "Doctor" as I have to "Pope", but that’s the least of his failings) in which he told us that he has been accused in court of raping a woman almost 40 years ago, that he had the allegations hushed up, and that his accuser is now dead: she appears to have committed suicide a couple of weeks ago.

Nice one, Holly. You’re a real class act.

It’s a bit hard to believe that Hollingworth actually thinks there’s any hope that he can survive, especially as this is but the latest in a long and sorry series of scandals he has brought to the highest office in the wide brown land.

Instead, his increasingly desperate and pathetic efforts to tough his way through the scandal give the impression that he’s painted himself into a corner and he hasn’t a clue how to escape. The sense of terror on his face throughout the TV broadcast yesterday spoke volumes: Hollingworth backpedalled furiously, trying to distance himself from the allegations, but just looked like a startled rabbit caught in the cross hairs.

I don’t suppose that Hollingworth really did rape this woman but his performance last night didn’t do much to convince me or, I suppose, many other people. It certainly didn’t make him look like a man of honour; instead, he looks more like a politician than a priest, and a pretty substandard pollie at that.

Billy Deane, he ain’t.

He looks like he’s lying even when he’s not. In the unkind glare of TV lights, reading from the Vice-Regal autocue, it was easy to see, or at least imagine, the beads of sweat forming on the Vice-Regal brow. I’ve never had much respect for this ambitious priests but it was slightly unnerving nonetheless to bear witness to the unfolding of his worst nightmare, on national television.

“Hollingworth is not the hero of the Republic, at least not yet”

Significantly, as the G-G self-immolates before a rapt television audience, even the Short Man himself seems to be stepping back from the inferno. En route to Qatar to congratulate our diggers on the splendid job they did in murdering a bunch of Iraqi children last month, Howard declined to give Holly the unqualified support he usually enjoys.

Howard doesn’t see any problem with having the highest office in the land occupied by a man who, as Archbishop of Brisbane, knowingly protected — and placed into a position of trust — a child rapist, who ignored pleas for action by the children’s parents, and who thought it was more important that the Anglican Church maintain its public liability no-claim-bonus than that children be protected from predators. But Hollingworth is now making what, for Howard, is a much graver error: an error of political judgement, and for that he must be cast adrift.

Hollingworth’s appointment was not one of the highlights of John Howard’s Prime Ministership and he has not exactly enamoured himself to the Australian public ever since. The G-G is meant to fill a kind of avuncular role for the Australian people, but Hollingworth’s apparent lack of political nous has had him perpetually in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much of this has been seized on, especially in an AP report that has had some traction overseas, as good news for the Republican Movement, a fact that will gall Howard if it proves to be more than media speculation. But I doubt that it will.

Hollingworth may be a dill, a political naif, an ambitious priest who has risen beyond his level of incompetence, a lousy liar and a protector of child abusers, but he is not the hero of the Republic, at least not yet.

Most likely I expect that within a week he and Howard will have had a full and frank exchange of views and Holly will do the right thing and fall on his sword. But he might not. He may be so scared and so isolated in his painted-in corner that he’ll keep toughing it out. That could be entertaining.