Attorney-general Christian Porter has rejected allegations that he raped a woman in Sydney in 1988, when she was 16.
Fronting the press on Wednesday afternoon, Porter asserted that “nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened”.
“The things that have been claimed to have happened did not happen,” he said.
Porter said he never had sexual relations with the woman.
The minister will not be stepping down from his role. However, he will be taking a “short period of leave” for mental health purposes, he said. Michaelia Cash will step in as acting attorney-general.
The woman who accused Porter took her own life in June 2020. She had gone to the police before she died, but had not made a formal statement. New South Wales police on Tuesday said its investigation into the matter had closed due to “insufficient admissible evidence”.
In a message to the alleged victim’s parents, Porter said he only knew the woman “for the briefest periods at debating competitions” when he was a teenager, arguing that the parents “did not deserve the frenzied politicisation” of the woman’s death.
The allegations emerged last week, when it was revealed that the prime minister, Labor senator Penny Wong, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and Liberal MP Celia Hammond had received an anonymous letter outlining the allegations. It was later revealed that several politicians first learned of the alleged incident in 2019, before the woman’s death.
Porter said that prior to the reporting of the alleged incident, law enforcement or the media had not contacted him to put forward the allegations, but had heard “a rumour”.
He has reportedly sought advice from defamation lawyer Peter Bartlett.
Earlier this week, the former lawyer of the alleged victim, Michael Bradley, noted that it was “theoretically possible” for a criminal rape prosecution to proceed despite the woman’s death.
“As a reality, that won’t happen,” he wrote in an article for The Mandarin‘s sister publication Crikey.
Bradley has called for the minister to step down — or be ordered to step down — while the matter is formally addressed, and for the prime minister to institute an independent inquiry into the matter.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced multiple calls for an inquiry to be conducted into the allegations, but has repeatedly rejected them, insisting that it was “a matter for the police”.
When asked whether he would support an independent inquiry to clear his name, Porter said that was a decision for “other people” to make.
“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 said.
The ABC has reported that the government hoped Porter’s public appearance would put an end to the matter.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday morning, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the issue would require “further leadership and action” from the government, noting that it wouldn’t just “go away”.
“I think people will be looking for further responses beyond any statement that might be made today by the minister,” he said.
“I was very disappointed by Scott Morrison’s statement yesterday where he said that he hadn’t read the documentation that was forwarded to him by the woman who was at the centre of the allegation who then took her own life by her friends.”
Concerns over a culture of misogyny in Canberra were raised last year, when allegations that Porter had made unwanted advances to women during his political career were reported by the ABC’s Four Corners. His treatment of women during his time as a debater in his university days had also been questioned.
The Four Corners investigation also revealed Porter’s colleague, Alan Tudge, had a consensual affair with a staffer in 2017.
Those cultural concerns have come into the spotlight again in recent weeks, when former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins alleged that she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019. Since Higgins spoke up to the media, three other women have come forward with complaints against the same man.
Porter’s public statement on the allegations has come on the same day that sexual assault survivor and Australian of the Year Grace Tame delivered a powerful address to the National Press Club.
When asked about Morrison’s initial response to Higgins’ allegations, and his statement that he was thinking about the alleged incident “as a father”, Tame said:
“It shouldn’t take having children to have a conscience. And, actually, on top of that, having children doesn’t guarantee a conscience.”
More to come…