Fri, 1 Mar, 2019Courtney Allan

Sunrise hosts leave Jeff Kennett squirming after grilling him about George Pell

Sunrise hosts leave Jeff Kennett squirming after grilling him about George Pell

Former premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett was grilled by Channel 7’s Sunrise hosts as Samatha Armytage and Natalie Barr fired questions at him about George Pell, leaving him squirming in his seat.

The segment focused on former Prime Minister John Howard’s decision to write a glowing character reference about George Pell.

Howard described Pell as “a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character” and despite Howard being aware of Pell’s convictions, “none of these matters alter my opinion of the Cardinal”.

Former premier Jeff Kennett agreed. He appeared on Sunrise alongside One Nation’s Mark Latham.

“Jeff, I guess particularly for John Howard to write a reference for Pell after the conviction was handed down – do you question that judgment?” asked Armytage at the beginning of the segment.

“No I don’t. Individuals are quite able to make decisions themselves, and I don’t think they should be attacked because they exercise a personal decision,” Kennett stated.

Armytage continued to question Kennett about his stance on the matter.

“But Jeff, John Howard is a very intelligent man. A jury convicted George Pell of sex offences against children. Do you really not question John Howard’s judgment in supporting him?” Armytage pressured.

“Look, I know it is easy to be critical, and I accept the legal system as it is. I can’t reconcile what has been decided with the person I knew, but there again, I didn’t hear the evidence, and I accept the decision,” Mr Kennett said.

Barr wasn’t happy with that answer and asked Kennett outright if he supported George Pell.

“So, Jeff Kennett, do you support George Pell?” she asked.

“I wasn’t there, I didn’t hear the evidence. But this all happened in 1996,” Kennett said.

Barr tried again with a more direct line of questioning.

“Jeff, as he stands today – forget his record – as a convicted paedophile today, do you support George Pell?” asked Barr.

Kennett was clearly feeling the pressure, as he sniped back, “Sorry, do you want to hear my answer or not?”

He then continued by saying that he accepted the verdict, even though his experience with Pell was different.

“So I hear, and I see and I accept the verdict. But that wasn’t the experience I had with George Pell at that time. That’s what I’m saying. No I can’t support him, I accept the findings, but I find it hard to reconcile,” Kennett explained.

The Sunrise hosts then turned to Latham for his opinion on Howard giving a character reference.

“Let’s be very clear about this. Paedophilia is an evil in our society, one of the very worst things that can happen,” Mr Latham said.

“It should be condemned in the strongest possible terms. No equivocation about it — ‘I had a meeting with him in ’96 and he didn’t do it then,’ — none of that Jeff. None of that. This should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

“And the thing about John Howard, it’s not a matter of standing up for a friend, it’s the way he expressed that. John Howard said he saw the conviction for paedophilia and it didn’t change his opinion of George Pell one iota. Now that’s just a lack of morality.

“A statement should start with total sympathy for the victims, and condemn paedophilia no matter how powerful the person was, and no matter how big the person was. Get stuck into them.”

However, when the question was thrown back to Kennett, he still maintained that people are entitled to express themselves and say what they want to say.

Armytage was exasperated and jumped back in.

“If George Pell had come to you as the former Victorian premier and said, ‘I would like a reference from you because I am about to be convicted of being a paedophile,’ what would you have done? Would you have written a reference saying he was a good man back in 1996? I think that was the year the crimes were committed,” Armytage stated.

Kennett dismissed the question.

“He never came to me, nor did his lawyers, nor was I asked. So I’m not going to talk about something so ridiculously hypothetical,” Mr Kennett said.

“That’s just silly. With due respect ladies, that is silly.”

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