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Church Vs State Issues Raised In Oz GG Appointment

The appointment of an Anglican archbishop as Australia's constitutional head of state has rekindled the republican debate and accelerated discussion of the relationship between church and state. Dave Crampton reports.

An Anglican archbishop will be Queen Elizabeth's 23rd governor-general and the constitutional head of state in Australia, an appointment that has rekindled the republican debate and accelerated discussion of the relationship between church and state.

Laying aside his religious duties, the Most Reverend Peter Hollingworth will replace retiring Governor-General Sir William Deane on June 29. Appointees to Australia's highest secular office usually are drawn from the political, military, or legal arenas, so the appointment of a churchman was a surprise. Although the ceremonial office is outside the political process, a governor-general has the power to commission a prime minister and dismiss an elected government. In 1975, then-Governor-General Sir John Kerr controversially sacked Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to break a deadlock in Parliament.

Hollingworth, a 66-year-old Brisbane cleric, is a social justice campaigner and was a public critic of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke's social policy. He was Australian of the Year in 1992, Father of the Year in 1987, and was awarded the equivalent of a knighthood when he was named a member of the Order of Australia in 1988. He is chairman of the National Council for the Centenary of Federation, created by the government to observe the 100th anniversary of a unified Australia, but will relinquish that role in June. He said in a prepared statement that his appointment came at "an exciting time in Australia's history -- halfway through our Centenary of Federation year, a time when we are reflecting on our past and looking forward to our future."

Prime Minister John Howard, who sought Hollingworth's appointment from the Queen last week, described the cleric as "an Australian of great distinction." The archbishop has won wide acclaim for his involvement in Australian secular life as well as his religious role in heading both the Anglican National Social Responsibilities Commission and the Brotherhood of St. Laurence, an active welfare organization in Melbourne. "He displayed a constant concern for the disadvantaged in our society, and will respect the lines that divide the role of the governor-general and the democratic prerogatives of the elected government of the day," Howard said.

Opposition leader Kim Beazley said the Labor Party looked forward to a cooperative working relationship with the royal representative. "We would expect a totally appropriate relationship between the opposition and the new governor-general and should we attain office at the end of the year, we'd expect a totally appropriate relationship with him from that point on."

Hollingworth will be the first cleric to hold the position of governor-general in Australia, although New Zealand's Anglican bishop was appointed to the position there in 1986. There also have been three clerics as state governors.

Although politicians from both sides of the constitutional fence welcome the five-year appointment, clerical opinion is divided. Earlier this week, George Browning, the Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulbern, expressed concern that the appointment may blur distinctions between church and state. "It is certainly not appropriate for the church to be inappropriately connected with the seat of political power," he told ABC Radio.

Christian Democratic Party leader Reverend Fred Nile said the appointment confirms Australia as a Christian nation reflecting religious minorities. "The appointment of a church leader such as Archbishop Peter Hollingworth does not undermine our Australian democratic society, but helps to reinforce it." As an Anglican governor-general, Hollingworth represents a monarch who also is the head of the Church of England, raising questions of religious influence.

Hollingworth said his 40 years as a member of the clergy have prepared him for his new appointment. He said any suggestions of his appointment fusing the powers of church and state was settled in the 18th century upon the founding of a constitutional secular state. He accused those questioning his religious vocation of discrimination. "Why should the office of the clergy be the one single professional group barred from the highest office of the land?"

Hollingworth's public support for severing Australia's constitutional links with the United Kingdom has raised questions as well among Australians who wonder how a man with republican sympathies can assume a monarchy position. In 1988 the archbishop took part in a Constitutional Convention where delegates voted to ditch the monarchy. But when a referendum was put to the Australian people the following year, 54 percent voted to retain the Queen as head of state. The Archbishop abstained from the convention vote. "You make changes when you are confident that what you have in front of you will be better than what you've had," he recalled at a press conference earlier this week.

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