Note: this story contains references to sexual assault.
Today, hours after Australian of the Year Grace Tame spoke with compassion and power about overcoming the trauma of sexual assault, Attorney-General Christian Porter finally shed light on the worst-kept secret in politics — that he was the government minister at the centre of a historic rape allegation that has sent shockwaves through the country.
Porter denied the allegations, and said he’d only been aware of a “whispering campaign” against him in the last few months.
“Nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened,” Porter told media.
“They just didn’t happen,” he repeatedly said in response to questions.
The woman, who died last year, alleged Porter had raped her at a school debate tournament in 1988 when the pair were teenagers. Porter said he did not remember many details from the time period.
“I didn’t say I remembered it very well. I remembered it as a happy time. It was 33 years ago. I remember the person as an intelligent, bright, happy person,” he said.
A tearful Porter confirmed he would not be standing down as attorney-general, and warned that doing so would set a dangerous precedent — one which would destroy rule of law in Australia.
“If I stand down from my position as attorney-general because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print,” he said.
“If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation.”
He did, however, confirm he would be taking a period of leave, to “reassess” and “hopefully improve” his mental health.
But the attorney-general directed much of his ire at the media, who he said had spread rumours and never put the substance of the allegations to him.
“No journalist has put the detail of the allegations to me in a way that would allow seeking a response, not ever. All I know about the allegations is what I have read in the media.”
He also claimed journalists and commentators had been far kinder to former opposition leader Bill Shorten when Shorten was the subject of similar historic allegations back.
“Australian media … did not attempt to conclude a public trial by media. There weren’t any calls for him to stand down or public reporting of anonymous, unsourced, untested material designed to try somebody in public,” Porter said.
NSW Police yesterday confirmed it would no longer pursue an investigation into the incident, citing a lack of admissible evidence. Still, there have been calls for an independent investigation similar to that brought against former High Court justice Dyson Heydon.
Despite his vigorous denial, Porter questioned the need for such an inquiry.
“I don’t know what it would achieve,” he said
“But it would be the first time in Australian history that a public figure or anyone effectively is put on trial in circumstances where they would be required to disapprove something that didn’t happen 33 years ago”
He also hit out at “conspiracy theories” circling about him online. While he has retained the services of a defamation lawyer, he’s yet to confirm whether he will commence legal proceedings.
“Over the last week, so much has been said of every imaginable type, and some of the stuff online, is just incredible. I will look at it all.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.