Representatives from the legal community have added their voices to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into historical rape allegations against attorney-general Christian Porter.
Porter on Wednesday rejected allegations that he raped a 16-year-old in Sydney in 1988, stating that he had never had any sexual contact with the now deceased woman.
Following the press conference, Australian Women Lawyers called for an “urgent” independent investigation into the allegations.
“Until such investigation is conducted, the question remains as to whether the attorney is an appropriately fit and proper person to hold that office,” the peak body said in a statement.
“This uncertainty undermines the credibility and operation of the Australian legal system given the community’s expectations of the legal profession and the attorney’s role in upholding the rule of law.”
Other senior lawyers, including Greg Barns, Fiona McLeod, and Lisa De Ferrari, have also backed calls for an inquiry, with some arguing that Porter must stand down while the investigation is conducted.
Porter has argued that he cannot stand down because, if he does, “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”.
“If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation,” he said.
But the alleged victim’s lawyer, Michael Bradley, has noted that Porter could return to his role — depending on the findings of the inquiry.
“But it isn’t right to say that every allegation must result in a resignation, if that is what is being advocated,” he told the ABC.
The attorney-general has also described his situation as “trial by media”. Speaking to the ABC’s Radio National on Thursday morning, Labor senator Penny Wong argued that some form of investigation would “ensure that the trial by media is not the way we proceed”.
Politicians from Labor and the Greens, as well independent Zali Steggall, have all called for an independent inquiry.
“I think the Australian public deserves to know exactly what is the case,” Steggall told Today on Thursday morning.
“The difficulty is the person involved, the attorney-general, is a person that holds the highest legal position in the land. We are law-makers. We have to have the Australian public satisfied that he is a fit and proper person to be in that role.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly said he would not institute an inquiry, insisting that it was “a matter for the police”.
On Tuesday NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Pauline Wright criticised Morrison’s response, describing it as “nothing short of an abrogation of his responsibility for the proper governance of the nation”.
“It is the prime minister, not the commissioner of the AFP, who is ultimately bound to consider whether the person is fit to serve in cabinet,” she said in a statement.
The woman who accused Porter reportedly took her own life in Adelaide last year. While she had contacted New South Wales Police regarding the allegations, she had not made a formal complaint before she died.
On Wednesday it was revealed that the South Australian coroner has requested further investigations into the cause and circumstances of the death of the woman, after SA police gave him a file on the death on Monday.
“Whilst SAPOL has provided information to me, I determined that the investigation is incomplete. This was particularly evident having regard to information contained in recent media reports,” he said in a statement.
“The investigation is continuing and once that investigation has been completed to my satisfaction, I shall determine whether to hold an inquest.”
The announcement has followed former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s call for an inquest into the death.
NSW Police has said it cannot investigate the matter further due to “insufficient admissible evidence”.