DENY, DEFLECT, DEFER
Note: This story discusses sexual assault and suicide.
Pressure is mounting on Scott Morrison to call an independent investigation after Christian Porter yesterday denied historical rape allegations by a now-deceased woman, with lawyer for the alleged victim Michael Bradley reiterating the proposal at Crikey yesterday evening along with several other senior lawyers, Labor leader Anthony Albanese ($), and the Greens’ Sarah Hanson-Young.
Most float something similar to the High Court’s inquiry into allegations against former judge Dyson Heydon, although Albanese also cites a potential coronial inquiry. On that note, 9News reports that South Australia’s state coroner David Whittle has called on state police to continue investigating her death before he decides whether to launch an inquest.
The news comes after Porter strongly denied the allegations or ever having had sex with the woman on the trip in question; accused the ABC of not providing him with “substantive” allegations before publishing last Friday’s story, and alleged he has since been subject to “public trial by media”; declared he would not resign and that doing so would set a precedent where there “there would be no rule of law left” to protect in Australia; and announced he would step aside for mental health leave the next few weeks. For more, see ABC’s transcript of the press conference or Guardian Australia’s guide to “known unknowns” from the conference i.e. Porter recalls the woman ironed his shirt for him but, when asked on whether they went dancing, only “that may well be the case”, emphasising it was 33 years ago.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash — who refused to provide witness statements over the leaked Australian Workers Union raid and who just yesterday appointed former colleague Bruce Billson to a $360,000, five-year role as small business ombudsman despite his being censured for accepting money from a business lobby while MP — will be acting attorney-general and minister for industrial relations.
PS: A day before Porter’s “rule of law” comments, the Morrison government held hearings into a proposed “secret evidence” bill that would deny people the right to hear or respond to cases against them before having their visa or citizenship stripped.
According to The Australian ($), Defence Minister Linda Reynolds referred to Brittany Higgins as a “lying cow” in front of staff members — some of whom were public servants on secondment from the Department of Defence — after her former media adviser first went public on Monday, February 15 about her alleged rape at Parliament House.
Reynolds, who afterwards apologised to staff for comments made during “a stressful time” and is currently on medical leave until next week, last night released a statement claiming that she, “never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter” and was instead commenting “on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented”.
The defence minister did not specify what circumstances she felt had been misrepresented, but they are presumably somewhere in news.com.au’s initial report.
THEY REALLY SAID THAT?
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.
Following backlash from Crikey, Guardian Australia, The Sydney Morning Herald, and 3AW journalists all pointing to several ignored media requests, a spokesperson has since alleged the attorney-general, “was referring to never having received in any substantive form the allegations against him before they were aired on ABC last Friday” and, on the radio silence, that, “there’s not much point putting the allegations to the attorney-general after they’ve been printed”.
“What has emerged from Christian Porter’s media conference this afternoon — where he vehemently and repeatedly denied the allegations made against him in relation to a sexual assault in 1988 — is a remarkable lack of curiosity on the part of multiple parties about some of the gravest claims that can be made against any individual, let alone one occupying the position of chief law officer of the Commonwealth.
“First is Porter’s own lack of curiosity about allegations he claims he was aware were circulating about last November — that he had ‘offended against’ (his words) a woman in the past. Porter did not seek to obtain details of the allegations or see the documents involved. And, when asked by the prime minister last Wednesday about the allegations, Porter merely denied them, and did not ask to see the documents involved.”
“In the legal profession, a person’s character means everything. The question now is whether Christian Porter is a fit and proper person to be Australia’s attorney-general, the highest law officer in the land.
“Senior lawyers told Crikey the allegations against Porter and his refusal to step down threatened to erode the public’s confidence in the justice system.”
“Suppose we were talking here not about a minister but a schoolteacher, publicly accused of raping a school child, in circumstances where a criminal prosecution was not possible.
“If the school principal’s only response to the exposure of the allegation was to say ‘I’ve spoken to him, he denies it, so that’s the end of the matter, he will be continuing to teach your children’, how many parents would accept that as a tolerable outcome?”
“This is a story about power in Australia.
“You were born into Liberal Party royalty. Dad was an Olympian, turned director of the Western Australia Liberals. Grandpa was an MP in Queensland under Bjelke-Petersen.
“You went to Hale, Perth’s most exclusive private school, and made the national schools debating team. By the start of adulthood, you were already too big to fail.
“As a kid, dad said you’d be prime minister one day. And you believed him. At university (arts/law at UWA, naturally) you tell people you’re going to be PM. You ‘smut [your] way through law school’ (your words). By all accounts, a real piece of work. But the drinking and the partying doesn’t stop you graduating with first class honours. The golden boy of UWA Law.”
READ ALL ABOUT IT
Has Christian Porter been subjected to a ‘trial by media’? No, the media did its job of being a watchdog — Denis Muller (The Conversation): “Aside from his strenuous denials of the rape allegation against him, the central point made by Attorney-General Christian Porter at his media conference was that he had been the victim of ‘trial by media’. He warned if the media’s publication of allegations in these circumstances resulted in a public figure being forced from office, it would represent a new and unacceptable standard for public figures generally.”
In fairness to Christian Porter, his denial cannot end the matter — Rosalind Dixon (The Sydney Morning Herald): “Sadly for Porter, his vehement public denial cannot end the matter. Regardless of how sincere the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues find Porter’s impassioned denial, accepting the minister’s untested word is not a sufficiently high bar for them to set when the allegation of rape is so serious and the threat to the government’s integrity is so great. It is also not fair to Porter, clearly devastated by the allegations and the public debate over them, to leave them hovering as they are.”
Rupert Murdoch at 90: Fox, succession and ‘one more big play’ — Alex Barker, Anna Nicolaou and James Fontanella-Khan (Financial Times): “By his own reckoning, Rupert Murdoch was supposed to die a fortnight ago, on a Tuesday afternoon. The media mogul scribbled the moment of his demise on a piece of paper in 2001 and flourished it during an interview taking stock of a five-decade career, which had turned a ho-hum Adelaide newspaper that he inherited from his father Sir Keith Murdoch into a global business empire, courted and feared by politicians across the English speaking world.”
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