AG Christian Porter fronts media to address rape allegation

“The things that are being claimed did not happen.”

Australia’s Attorney-General Christian Porter held a media conference today to identify himself as the subject of an historic rape allegation against him – and to address it.

“The only thing that I am ever going to be able to say – and it’s the truth – that nothing in the allegations that have been printed have ever happened,” said Porter, the Member for Pearce in Western Australia, in a prepared statement.

In the wake of Brittany Higgins’ rape accusation that rocked Australian politics and the Sydney schoolgirl petition revealing an apparent culture of sexual assault in some elite schools, Porter is alleged to have raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988.

The alleged victim took her life last year as a 50-year-old woman. The media is not reporting her name at this stage, so as to protect her family and for legal reasons.

However, a group of the woman’s friends have come forward to advocate for her, saying she had made a “clear decision” to make her experience known and they believe her account. The woman contacted her friends in 2019 to disclose the rape to them.

“I did not sleep with the victim and did not have anything of that nature with the victim,” Porter responded to a reporter’s question, adding that he does not know why the allegation was made against him.

Porter knew the woman when they were teenagers in debating competitions. The Attorney-General claimed that the only information he has known about the woman’s allegations is what he has read in media reports during the past week.

He started the press conference by speaking directly to the family of the woman. “You have suffered a terrible loss and you did not desire the frenzied politicisation of her death during the past week.”

“I do not mean to impose more on your grief.

“I hope that whatever else happens that you will understand … that the things that are being claimed did not happen.”

Porter said he will not resign as Attorney-General and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not asked him to. Porter will take a short period of leave to help his own mental health, as he discussed today with Morrison.

Porter warned that if he stood down from his position, “then any person in Australia can lose their job” on the strength of allegations made against them outside of the court system.

During the past few years, Christian Porter has been at the forefront of consultations about, and the shaping of, the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill. He also was vocal about perceived delays with Christian organisations, such as the Catholic Church, signing on to the national redress scheme to provide compensation to survivors of child sexual abuse in Australian institutions.

Reports of the allegation

The allegation became known last week when several members of Parliament received anonymous letters, 30 pages in length, detailing the alleged victim’s account of the rape.

After the letter was leaked to some media outlets, they reported details of the alleged rape, including a photo showing the Attorney General and the woman that dates to the day before the rape is alleged to have taken place.

Other media outlets have not published details, describing the “unprecedented ground” of striking the balance of treating Porter as innocent until proven guilty, yet also believing a woman’s account of rape.

As ABC’s Political Editor Andrew Probyn commented today before Porter’s press conference: “It will be very interesting to see this minister, whether he argues a matter of consent or whether he simply says that the allegations are wholly untrue. And these are the sorts of things we can’t speculate on until it happens … But all journalists involved in this, we would be deeply conflicted because we all have to respect the presumption of innocence, natural justice.”

Police 

The police in New South Wales – the state where the alleged rape is said to have taken place – have said that the woman made a claim to them in February last year, but “did not detail her allegations in a formal statement”. The state investigation was suspended in June when she took her own life.

NSW Police statement announced yesterday: “Following the woman’s death, NSW Police came into possession of a personal document purportedly made by the woman previously. NSW Police have since sought legal advice in relation to these matters.”

“Based on information provided to NSW Police, there is insufficient admissible evidence to proceed. As such, NSW Police Force has determined the matter is now closed.”

South Australian police – the state where the woman took her life – are currently conducting a coronial inquiry into her death.

Future action

Given the above police statements, there is no possibility of criminal prosecution against Porter over the allegation. But some are calling for independent or confidential investigations.

Independent NSW MP Zali Steggall told the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that the NSW Police decision should not be the end of the matter, due to the serious nature of the allegations.

“There needs to be a balance here for the public to feel that justice is done and, at the same time, to make sure the person’s reputation is not needlessly trashed unless there is a case to answer,” said Ms Steggall.

Also speaking yesterday, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young – who was one of several politicians who received the anonymous letter – said the minister in question should step aside for an inquiry.

“I think the right thing to do here right now would be for the Minister to stand aside while an independent inquiry was conducted so that both the victim can have her voice heard and that the man accused can have an opportunity to clear his name if he is innocent,” she said.

Accounts by the woman’s friends

The director of Adelaide Writers’ Week, Jo Dyer, was a long-time friend of the alleged victim.

“She was under no illusions about the difficulties that she would face if she sought to make a formal complaint against anyone of a crime … so far in the distant past,” Ms Dyer told ABC’s 7.30.

“She had made a clear decision. She was able to articulate the reasons why she had taken that decision, which were to do with the fact that bearing the trauma had not worked for her.”

The woman told her friends, including Dyer, in 2019 about the alleged assault. “I believed her from the very beginning,” said Ms Dyer, adding that her friend intended to go to the police.

“The detail that she recounted, the lucidity with which she recounted it, and the impact that it had had on her, all of these things persuaded me immediately that she was telling the truth.”

For those troubled personally by this issue – Lifeline 13 11 14

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