/ 04 March 2021

An unholy mess

Australia’s Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter is the unnamed senior Liberal at the centre of historical sexual assault claims. Fronting the media yesterday afternoon, an emotional Porter adamantly denied that he’d raped a 16yo girl in 1988 when he was 17yo and they were in Sydney for a debating competition. The claim surfaced when the ABC published a story last Friday saying PM Scott Morrison, Labor frontbencher Penny Wong, and Greens Senator Sarah Hansen-Young received information from an anonymous source outlining the accusations but not naming the parties. Since then, pressure has been building on the Morrison Government and the man in question to respond.

The full transcript of his press conference is here. But in short:

• Porter says “what has been put in various forms and allegations simply did not happen.” And he addressed the parents of the unnamed woman, who took her own life last year. “You have suffered a terrible loss, and you did not deserve the frenzied politicisation of the circumstances of your daughter’s death of the past week,” he said.

• He will not stand aside or stand down, saying he won’t set a precedent that would see “anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation”. To go would mean “there wouldn’t be much need for an Attorney-General anyway, because there would be no rule of law left to protect in this country.”

• And he said his mental health is in bad shape. “For the many caring family and friends who have asked me that question over the course of the last week ‘are you OK?’ I have got to say my answer, my honest answer is, I really don’t know.” He will take a couple of weeks off and seek help.

Well, questions about the need for an inquiry into the allegations have not been settled, but that might become irrelevant with the South Australian coroner David Whittle yesterday stepping in to say the state’s police investigation into the woman’s death is “incomplete”, and he will “determine whether to hold an inquiry” when it concludes. That could take the investigation of the historical rape claims forward, legal experts say. As for Porter and Morrison, Labor leader Anthony Albanese yesterday said they’re not off the hook. “I think people will be looking for further responses beyond any statement that might be made today by the minister,” he said. So while yesterday was described as one of the worst days in federal politics of recent times, it isn’t over yet…

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