Australian minister, 50, breaks down in tears as he denies raping a girl, 16, after a school debating competition in 1988 when he was 17
- Christian Porter outed himself as a minister accused of rape to deny allegation
- He said he has been subjected to trial by media and refused to step down
- Mr Porter was accused of raping a girl in 1988 when he was 17 and she was 16
- The woman took her own life last year and NSW Police closed an investigation
Australia’s attorney-general Christian Porter has outed himself as the cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 to categorically deny the accusation and insist he will not stand down.
In an extraordinary press briefing in Perth, a shattered and tearful Mr Porter said he had been subjected to a trial by media and has asked the Prime Minister to take some mental health leave as a result of the accusation which was investigated by police who closed the case without pressing charges.
The 50-year-old former public prosecutor confirmed he attended a debating competition at Sydney University with his accuser when he was 17 and she was 16, but categorically denied ever sleeping with the woman who has since taken her own life.
Tearful: Christian Porter has outed himself as the cabinet minister accused of rape to categorically deny the accusation and has insist he will not stand down
Mr Porter spoke through tears during the press conference held in Perth on Wednesday
The 50-year-old former public prosecutor confirmed he attended a debating competition at Sydney University with his accuser but denied sleeping with her
Christian Porter (pictured during a debate when he was a schoolboy) has been accused of raping a woman when he was 17 and she was 16 after a debating competition at Sydney University in 1988
‘The things that have been claimed to happen did not happen,’ he said through tears in the emotional conference on Wednesday afternoon.
‘I did not sleep with the [alleged] victim. We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us,’ he added.
By unveiling himself, Mr Porter ended six days of speculation over the accused’s identity after the woman’s allegation was published in the media without naming the cabinet minister.
Mr Porter admitted that he can’t remember every single detail of the night in question but insisted that he would not have forgotten having sex with someone.
‘The things I have read did not happen. And to suggest that they could be forgotten is ridiculous, they just never happened,’ he said.
Asked if he had ever spent time alone with the woman, he said: ‘It’s not impossible, I have never been in the person’s room.’
The minister said he recalls two nights out during the week of the alleged incident including a formal dinner at a university college and ‘dancing’ in the city.
‘It was 33 years ago. I remember two evenings that week. One was a night at one of the colleges with bowls of prawns which sticks in my mind.
‘I do remember a formal dinner and going out dancing sounds about right,’ he said.
Mr Porter also recalled a time when the woman ironed his shirt before a night out with the debating team.
‘There were four of us, three boys, and this person whose name I can’t even say because of the situation we are in.
‘I don’t think any of us had ever ironed a shirt, and I recall, she showed us how to do it, I remember that,’ he said.
Mr Porter said he has not spoken to the woman – whom he described as a ‘bright, happy person’ – since 1988 and does not know why she would make the allegation.
‘I don’t, I don’t know, what her circumstances were. I don’t know.
‘I couldn’t answer that question… I don’t know about her life, what challenges she faced, or anything like that, I hadn’t seen or heard or had contact in 33 years,’ he said.
The woman, who struggled with her mental health for years, told police about her allegation in February last year but took her own life in June. Detectives closed their investigation on Tuesday due to a lack of evidence.
The accuser’s allegation became public last week after Prime Minster Scott Morrison received a letter from a mystery sender which included a statement the woman had prepared for her lawyers in 2019.
Mr Porter spoke to the prime minister when he got the letter last Wednesday and has since received his full backing.
Journalists frantically asked questions following the minister’s statement
Mr Porter (pictured in a press briefing in Perth on Wednesday) has taken mental health leave after being accused of rape
Mr Porter said if he stood down that there would be no rule of law left in Australia and it would set a dangerous precedent where ‘accusation equals resignation’
Senior government minister Christian Porter (pictured in Parliament) has categorically denied a historical rape allegation and said he will not be stepping down
Revealing that he would take two weeks off, Mr Porter said: ‘I have discussed with the prime minister today that after speaking with my own doctor I am going to take a short period of leave to assess and hopefully improve my own mental health’.
‘All of my life I have just pushed through, but for the many caring family and friends who have asked me that question over the course of the last week, ”Are you OK?” I have got to say my answer is I really don’t know.
‘I am not ashamed to say that I am going to seek some professional assessment and assistance on answering that question over the next few weeks before I go back into the field and resume the role of Attorney-General, Minister of Industrial relations and Leader of the House’.
Mr Porter said if he stood down that there would be no rule of law left in Australia and doing so would set a dangerous precedent where ‘accusation equals resignation’.
‘If I stand down from my position as Attorney-General because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, 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,’ he said.
‘If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation. Every child we raise can have their lives destroyed by online reporting of accusations alone,’ he said.
‘My guess is if I were to resign and that set a new standard there wouldn’t be much need for an Attorney-General anyway because there would be no rule of law left to protect in this country, so I will not be part of letting that happen while I am attorney-general and I am sure you will ask and I will state to you, I am not standing down or aside.’
With legal options exhausted after police closed the case, political opponents have called for an independent inquiry into the allegations.
But Mr Porter rejected the suggestion, saying such an inquiry would ultimately require him to disprove the allegation which he cannot do.
‘What would I say in front of that inquiry? What would that inquiry ask me to do? To disapprove something that didn’t happen 33 years ago. I honestly don’t know what I would say to that inquiry. [Can I disprove the allegation] Of course I can’t. I of course I can’t,’ he said.
‘You are talking here about a civil determination of a criminal allegation on presumably the standards of balance of probabilities where I would be asked to disprove something that just didn’t happen 33 years ago. So, if that happens, I couldn’t succeed to disapprove something.’
Mr Porter announced he had split from his second wife Jennifer (pictured together) – who is 13 years his junior – in January 2020. A statement said the decision was mutual and they would focus on co-parenting their two young children. Mr Porter was briefly married to Lucy Gunn in the mid 2000s
Christian Porter’s moving message to his accuser’s parents
I just wanted to start by saying something to the parents who are grieving for the loss of their adult daughter.
I only knew briefest periods. We met at debating competitions, when we were teenagers about 33 years ago, I was 17, years old, and I think that she was 16 years old.
And in losing that person, your daughter, you suffered a terrible loss.
And you did not deserve, the frenzied politicisation of the circumstances of your daughter’s death for the past week.
I have thought long and hard about the implications for you of what I feel that I need to say today.
And I hope that whatever else happens, from this point that you understand that in saying today that the things that have been claimed to happen did not happen that I do not mean to impose anything more upon your grief.
But I hope that you will also understand that because what is being alleged did not happen, I must say so publicly.
The allegations were first aired online by the ABC on Friday – without naming the minister – and Mr Porter slammed the broadcaster for not asking him for a response.
‘Prior to last Friday’s story in the ABC, no one in law enforcement, or the law or politics or the media ever put any specific allegations to me at all,’ he said.
‘I was aware, over the last few months, of a whispering campaign.
‘Had the accusations ever been put to me before they were printed, I would have at least been able to say, the only thing that I can say, likely the only thing that I’m ever going to be able to say.
‘And that’s the truth. And that is that nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened.
‘Even now, the only information I have about the allegations, is what has been circulating online and in certain media outlets.’
At the start of his statement, Mr Porter addressed his accusers’ parents and said they suffered a ‘terrible loss’.
‘And you did not deserve, the frenzied politicisation of the circumstances of your daughter’s death for the past week,’ he said.
‘I have thought long and hard about the implications for you of what I feel that I need to say today.
This is not the first time a senior politician has outed themselves as being accused of rape.
Christian Porter as a schoolboy in WA
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten denied sexual assault allegations in August 2014 after Victoria Police closed an investigation into him.
‘I will not go into details, except to say the allegation was untrue and abhorrent,’ he said at the time.
Government supporters say Mr Shorten did not step down and so Mr Porter should not either.
But Labor shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally said that is not a fair analogy because Mr Shorten’s case was thoroughly investigated for 10 months.
‘What we have here is a police investigation that can’t proceed, because the alleged victim has died,’ she told Sky News.
‘And the police have determined they cannot gather enough admissible evidence. But there has not been a full investigation into these allegations. They have not been examined, as they need to be thoroughly and closely. And I think there are still very important questions.’
The woman who accused Mr Porter never made a formal statement to police who were due to travel to her home in Adelaide in March 2020 but postponed due to Covid-19.
In June the woman withdrew her allegation and died by suicide the next day, causing the investigation to be suspended before it was officially closed this week.
According to Four Corners which first reported the allegation on Friday, the woman had bipolar disorder and had attended a psychiatric hospital in Melbourne in the months before her death aged 49.
Friends say she was ‘beautiful and clever’ but ‘consumed with trauma’.
Mr Morrison said he did not read the letter but forwarded it to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw (pictured)
‘The matter is now closed’: NSW Police statement
In November 2019, a woman then aged 48, attended an Adelaide (South Australia) police station seeking advice about reporting historical sexual offences, which allegedly occurred in 1988 in Sydney (New South Wales).
The matter was then referred to the NSW Police Force and an investigation by the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad commenced under Strike Force Wyndarra.
NSW Police Force has been the lead agency in respect to this investigation since February 2020. For various reasons, the woman did not detail her allegations in a formal statement to NSW Police.
The woman passed away in June 2020. Following the woman’s death, NSW Police came into possession of a personal document purportedly made by the woman previously.
NSW Police have since sought legal advice in relation to these matters. Based on information provided to NSW Police, there is insufficient admissible evidence to proceed.
As such, NSW Police Force has determined the matter is now closed.
As well as leaving her prepared statement, the woman made a 45-minute recording in which she talked about her allegations, according to the Herald Sun.
In a letter to a friend she wrote: ‘I guess I just worry that a trial has the potential to be an emotional bloodbath, particularly for me and anyone who appears as a witness in the case.’
NSW Police said officers have sought legal advice about a ‘personal document’ made by the woman.
The woman had told several family and friends about her allegation. It was presumably one of them who sent the letter to Mr Morrison, Liberal MP Celia Hammond and two South Australian senators, demanding an investigation.
The anonymous sender said they were inspired to write the letter after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation she was raped by another staffer in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds’ parliament office in 2019.
Ms Higgins’ allegations dominated the past two sitting weeks of parliament as ministers were repeatedly grilled over who knew about her claims and when.
The rape allegation: A timeline
1988: Event in Sydney at which woman later alleges she was raped
Late 2019: Woman engages lawyers and prepares a statement
February 2020: Woman reports allegations to NSW Police
March 2020: Police postpone trip to visit her due to Covid-19
June 2020: Woman dies by suicide
February 24, 2021: Anonymous letter is sent to PM detailing allegations
March 1, 2021: PM says minister completely rejects the allegations
March 2, 2021: NSW Police close the case
The sender demanded an inquiry into the 1988 allegation, writing: ‘There will be considerable damage to community perceptions of justice… and the parliament when this story becomes public if it is simultaneously revealed that senior people (like yourselves) were aware of the accusation but had done nothing.’
The ministerial code of conduct requires a minister to stand aside if charged with a crime.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier urged the minister to reveal himself and said it is ‘impossible for him to function in that cabinet’.
On Monday Mr Morrison said he spoke to the minister who ‘vigorously rejected the allegations’ on Wednesday evening.
The prime minister said he did not read the letter but had been briefed on the contents of the allegations.
Asked if he would set up an inquiry, he said: ‘I’m not the police force. I have given it to the police to investigate.’
Mr Morrison said AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw had not advised him to take any action.
He refused to sack the minister, saying: ‘We can’t have a situation where the mere making of an allegation and that being publicised through the media is grounds for, you know, governments to stand people down simply on the basis of that. I mean, we have a rule of law in this country.’
Mr Morrison said the first he substantially heard of the allegation was last week. Before that he had only heard rumours of a journalist making inquiries, he said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Labor Senator Penny Wong received the unsigned letter and both released statements saying they had contacted the AFP.
Senator Hanson-Young said the information she had received regarded a ‘disturbing and a very serious allegation of a criminal nature against a senior member of the government’.
An anonymous sender said they were inspired to write a letter (pictured) detailing the woman’s allegations after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation
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