The lawyer who represented the woman at the centre of a historical rape allegation against Christian Porter says an independent inquiry is needed, despite the Attorney-General’s vehement denial.
Mr Porter has identified himself as the accused federal cabinet minister, breaking his silence on Wednesday to vigorously reject the accusations.
“I can say categorically that what has been put in various forms in allegations, simply did not happen,” Mr Porter told journalists.
“Nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened.”
Reports of an alleged sexual assault involving a cabinet minister, which is said to have occurred in 1988 when the victim was 16 years old, first surfaced in the media on Friday.
The alleged victim, who has also not been named by the media out of respect for her family, took her own life in June last year but prepared a statement detailing the allegations before her death.
Michael Bradley, a lawyer who represented the woman, said Mr Porter’s denial is not enough to resolve the matter.
“Of course, he’s entitled to put his response, as he has, and clearly that’s his version of events,” Mr Bradley told SBS News.
“Unfortunately, that isn’t how one resolves issues like this when we’re dealing with the first officer of the law in the country.
“He is in the highest office and there is a serious allegation outstanding against him, and, regrettably, his denial of the allegations doesn’t get us a resolution.”
Mr Bradley called for a formal independent investigation into the matter.
“Given his position and given the gravity of the allegation, it needs to be a formal, properly-constituted inquiry led by someone appropriately eminent, such as a retired judge. It needs to be completely independent of the government.
“Of course, it needs to be fully armed with powers of compulsion and it needs to comply with all the rules of procedural fairness. There’s plenty of precedent for such an inquiry, so nothing needs to be invented.”
In his press conference, Mr Porter argued such an inquiry would force him to “disprove something that didn’t happen 33 years ago”. But Mr Bradley said this wouldn’t be the case.
“No part of that will require him or place the onus on him to disprove anything,” he said.
“If the evidence ultimately doesn’t stack up, then he’ll be exonerated and that will be the end of it.”
Some politicians are also adamant a separate probe must investigate the historical allegation, despite police not proceeding because of insufficient evidence.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who was sent a letter detailing the allegations last week, reiterated her calls for an independent inquiry after Mr Porter’s statement on Wednesday.
“I don’t think we want a culture in this country where it is just blame and name. I don’t think that is helpful,” she told the ABC on Wednesday afternoon, adding “we don’t need to talk about hypotheticals”.
“What we have here is a very specific allegation. A very serious one. One that has been put directly on the Prime Minister’s desk. He needs to make a judgement,” she said.
“And in order to do that, he needs to avail himself of all the information that is out there, that has been given to him.
“I think an independent review, an inquiry is really the only way a prime minister could properly inform himself as to whether the men that sit around his Cabinet table are fit to be there.”
Greens party leader Adam Bandt has also called for an independent inquiry.
“Courts decide innocence & guilt, but the PM decides who’s in cabinet running the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
“If the PM & AG won’t even read the letters sent to PM, an independent inquiry should.
“It should report openly and transparently. Then PM can decide if this Minister is fit for the job.”
Liberal MP Tim Wilson on Wednesday questioned the merit of an additional investigation, telling the ABC any new evidence should be put to police.
The woman had approached NSW Police last year, but the investigation was suspended when she died after telling authorities she didn’t want to proceed. On Tuesday, a NSW Police spokesperson said the force had closed the investigation due to a lack of evidence.
Investigation into alleged victim’s death ‘incomplete’
In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, South Australian State Coroner David Whittle said the investigation into the woman’s death remained “incomplete”.
“On the morning of 1 March 2021, an investigation file regarding the death of a woman in June 2020 was delivered to me by South Australia Police. The woman’s death and related matters have been the subject of media reporting in recent days,” he said.
“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.
“Counsel Assisting the State Coroner was allocated to assist SAPOL in the direction of the further investigations which I have requested.
“The investigation is continuing and once that investigation has been completed to my satisfaction, I shall determine whether to hold an inquest.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by family and domestic violence or sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.