Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Court drops rape charges against governor-general

AFP , SYDNEY

A court dismissed rape allegations against the Queen's representative in Australia yesterday, but the ruling failed to quell demands he resign or be fired over an unrelated sex abuse scandal.

Governor-General Peter Hollingworth welcomed the dismissal of the rape allegations that dated back to the mid-1960s and forced him to stand aside from the his vice-regal office earlier this month.

But he did not respond to renewed calls for his resignation.

"I welcome the dropping of 40-year-old baseless allegations against me in the Victorian Supreme Court," Hollingworth said.

Reaffirming his innocence, Hollingworth expressed sympathy for the family of Rosemarie Anne Jarmyn, who committed suicide last month after bringing the civil case against him.

"Now that this accusation has been disposed of, I am able to give proper consideration to my longer-term tenure as governor general," he said in a videotaped statement.

The court dismissed the case at the request of Jarmyn's family, who said they had come under enormous stress since the case became public earlier this month and wanted to abandon the proceedings.

Judge Bernard Bongiorno agreed and ordered that the claims against Hollingworth be "unequivocally withdrawn," saying the rape allegations against him "could never be proved."

"The forensic reality is that it would have been difficult to prove the allegation in the absence of the deceased," Bongiorno said.

Hollingworth still faces pressure to resign over an unrelated scandal where a church-commissioned report found he failed to act against pedophile priests when he was a Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane in the 1990s.

Opposition Labor party leader Simon Crean said yesterday's video address was Hollingworth's last chance to leave of his own volition and Prime Minister John Howard should now step in and sack him.

"The prime minister has no option but to dismiss the governor-general," he told reporters.

Crean said Hollingworth was damaging the office of governor-general, which has traditionally been seen as above controversy and political in-fighting.

However, Hollingworth appeared ready to tough out the controversy.

He has hired public relations professionals reported to be earning thousands of dollars a day to help him win over a public that opinion polls show does not want him as Australia's ceremonial head of state.

The spin doctors' influence was evident in Hollingworth's video statement, which was recorded in a production studio and divided into carefully orchestrated sound bites for evening news bulletins.

Howard, who personally selected Hollingworth, remained silent on Hollingworth's future but one of his top lieutenants, Trade Minister Mark Vaile, said the governor-general should reflect on his handling of child sexual abuse claims now that the rape case had been dismissed.

"He will reflect on, I'm sure, any impact that has on the office of governor-general ultimately he will make a decision about his position," Vaile told reporters.

Howard has the power to recommend the governor-general's dismissal to Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, but said earlier this month that Hollingworth had done nothing to warrant such action.

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