Note: the following story discusses sexual assault and suicide.
Former attorney-general, former minister for industry and now former Liberal backbencher Christian Porter has announced he is quitting Parliament after he was accused of raping a former high school debating team member on a trip to Sydney in 1988 when she was 16 and he was 17. Porter strenuously denies the allegations.
The news is bittersweet for the friends of his accuser, known by her first name, Kate. It’s been a long road since the allegations were made public, with Porter launching defamation proceedings against the ABC and a judge banning its defence from going public.
South Australian wine writer Nick Ryan has known Kate since high school. They were on the same debate team and Ryan was Kate’s platonic date to her Year 11 formal. This morning he sat in the same small Adelaide cafe where Kate first told him of the allegations, in 2019, and drank a coffee.
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“It’s a strange feeling,” he told Crikey. “I don’t know what to feel. There’s no triumphalism and it’s all kind of hollow.”
Porter’s resignation, he said, would have been welcomed by Kate if she was around to see it. Kate took her life in June 2020.
“Seeing him on the news or in Parliament, that was a trigger and it distressed Kate,” Ryan said.
Another friend since high school, Jeremy Samuel, tells Crikey Porter had made a series of missteps in handling the allegations.
Samuel and Kate met through a national debating championship, travelling to Disneyland in the US together between finishing high school and starting university.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster, though I think Kate would have been happy with yesterday’s outcome,” Samuel said.
He hopes Porter’s resignation, coupled with sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ review into parliamentary workplace culture, signalled a change in politics to something more gender-balanced and more diverse.
Another lifelong friend, who asked to stay anonymous, tells Crikey the story isn’t over. The South Australian coroner has yet to release its findings into Kate’s death. While the NSW police didn’t investigate her allegation due to border closures and Kate wanting to speak to police in person — among other factors — Crikey understands the coroner is conducting a thorough investigation, interviewing more than 140 people.
There are also concerns around politicians using the new anti-trolling bill to silence critics with defamation — a growing trend among high-profile individuals in Parliament.
“It’s been a long journey and an imperfect process,” the friend said. “Kate would probably be pleased with the outcome, so maybe that’s progress.”
The group plans to finally meet in person to toast Kate later this year and to share stories of the bright, brilliant and funny woman — and reminisce over a lost friend.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
For counselling, advice and support for men in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania who have anger, relationship or parenting issues, call the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491. Men in WA can contact the Men’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 000 599.