Governor general spices up the Queen's landing with a brief encounter

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The Independent Online

The embattled governor general of Australia, Peter Hollingworth, welcomed the Queen yesterday with a bow, a handshake – and a brief touch of the royal back that sent the British tabloids into a frenzy of excitement.

Dr Hollingworth, who has resisted calls to resign over an alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Anglican Church when he was Archbishop of Brisbane in the Nineties, was at Adelaide airport as the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh touched down for a five-day tour.

He and the Queen later met at Government House. There was no official word on the content of their conversation, but it was bound to have included the controversy that has swirled around the Queen's representative for the past fortnight.

The Queen also met the Prime Minister, John Howard, who decided last week not to dismiss the governor general. Political pundits say he had hoped that Dr Hollingworth would do the decent thing and step down. Mr Howard rejected suggestions that the governor general controversy was embarrassing for the Queen.

Among the crowds waiting to greet the Queen in Adelaide yesterday was a handful of protesters with banners that said "Resign now – zero tolerance on abuse" and "Governor general guilty of collusion – we won't forget".

The airport encounter had been billed as potentially the most awkward moment of the Queen's visit. A frisson ran through spectators when Dr Hollingworth appeared to flout protocol by brushing her back as he guided her into a limousine. The faux pas revived memories of the infamous incident when the former prime minister Paul Keating put his arm around the Queen during a royal tour in 1992.

The governor general was again forced to defend himself yesterday after a report that he wrote a reference for a former cathedral choirmaster without mentioning allegations of sexual misconduct made against him. He said it had not been appropriate to mention "unsubstantiated allegations".

The royal visit will provide welcome relief for Mr Howard, whose integrity is in question over claims made before last year's election that asylum-seekers intercepted by the Australian navy in the Indian Ocean threw their children overboard. It has since emerged that they were in the water because their boat had sunk.

Yesterday the head of the Australian Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie, further undermined Mr Howard by saying there had never been any evidence that the children were thrown overboard.