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Friday, 21 December, 2001, 06:58 GMT
Howard speaks out over sex scandal
Prime Minster John Howard
John Howard said criticism of Mr Hollingworth was unfair
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has voiced support for his country's governor-general over his handling of a sex abuse scandal at a church school.

In his first public comment on the issue, Mr Howard dismissed as "nonsense" criticism levelled against Governor-General Peter Hollingworth.

"The criticism made is that he was involved in a cover-up. There is no evidence of that and it is just nonsense," the prime minister told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"I am supporting the governor-general," he said.

Child welfare groups have called for Mr Hollingworth to resign after it emerged a teacher had abused pupils at a school in his Mr Hollingworth's diocese when he was Archbishop of Brisbane.

Earlier this month, a court ordered the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane to pay one of the students, now aged 24, almost $500,000 in damages for failing to care for her.

The accused teacher, Kevin Guy, committed suicide in prison in 1990 before he could face trial.

Silence broken

Mr Hollingworth - the Queen's representative in Australia - denied any wrongdoing, saying he only learned of Mr Guy's activities "some days" after police laid charges.

Peter Hollingworth takes the oath of office as the new governor-general of Australia
Mr Hollingworth is Queen Elizabeth's representative in Australia

He said he regretted that "legal and insurance considerations" prevented the Church from taking a more active role in supporting Mr Guy's alleged victims.

But the leader of Australia's opposition Labour party, Simon Crean, said Mr Hollingworth should have spoken out sooner.

"I think it has tarnished the office of governor-general, the fact it took so long for (Mr Hollingworth's) statement to come out," he said.

Fresh allegations emerged on Friday that sexual abuse took place at another Anglican school while Mr Hollingworth was archbishop.

Australian newspaper The Age said a school counsellor at St Paul's' School in Brisbane was accused of abusing students there in the mid-1990s.

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sex scandal dogs Governor-General
29 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australian governor-general sworn in
04 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Aborigine treaty plans dismissed
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Australia
03 May 01 | Country profiles
Country Profile: Australia
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