Australia PM backs attorney general accused of rape

Australia’s prime minister on Thursday threw his support behind a senior minister accused of rape, and rejected mounting calls for an independent investigation into the allegations.

Attorney-General Christian Porter — the government’s top legal officer and a former state prosecutor — on Wednesday tearfully denied raping a 16-year-old fellow student in 1988.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged this “must be a harrowing time” for the family and friends of the alleged victim who died last year, but indicated Porter would continue in his role after medical leave.

“I’m pleased that he’s taking some time, to get support to deal with what has obviously been a very traumatic series of events,” Morrison said.

“I’m looking forward to him returning to his duties once that period of leave is completed.”

Porter was forced to come forward after senior lawmakers received a dossier setting out the claims of the alleged victim, who died last June without making a formal complaint to police.

Police said Thursday that after multiple contacts with the woman beginning last February, she told them the day before her death she “no longer felt able to proceed with reporting the matter, citing medical and personal reasons”.

Her death — reported to be suicide — is the subject of an ongoing coroner’s investigation.

Morrison rejected calls for an independent inquiry into the matter, saying it would go beyond “the rule of law” as police had closed the case after finding “insufficient admissible evidence” to proceed.

Morrison insisted sacking Porter would create a precedent that put the rule of law at risk. 

“There is not some other process. There is not the mob process. There is not the tribe-has-spoken process,” he said.

Morrison also backed Defence Minister Linda Reynolds — who is also on medical leave — following media reports she referred to a young former staffer who was allegedly raped by a colleague as a “lying cow”.

Brittany Higgins, 26, recently went public with allegations she was raped in Reynolds’ parliamentary office in 2019 and failed by her bosses in the aftermath.

Reynolds has not denied making the disparaging comments in front of other staff members but said they related to “surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented”.

Morrison said he did not condone the “offensive remarks” but said the minister had apologised and “what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues”.

There has been growing public outrage over the government’s handling of sexual assault and harassment allegations.

Australia’s parliament has been repeatedly criticised for a “toxic” workplace culture that has spawned persistent allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct against women in recent years.

Morrison said a new telephone support service has been set up for parliamentary staff and lawmakers who need counselling or support, as part of the government’s response to the issue.