Australia’s highest lawmaker, Attorney General Christian Porter has come forward after days of speculation, to reveal himself as the man at the centre of historic rape allegations.
During a press conference this afternoon, Porter said he had thought “long and hard” about the impacts of the last week on the alleged victim’s family– someone he claimed to have known for “only the briefest of 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.”
He recalled her as “a bright and happy girl”, but claimed their relationship had been platonic at all times.
“I can say to you all, it didn’t happen. But I can’t criticise or mount a defence or cross-examination of someone. I am just not going to do that to the family of this poor woman.”
“We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us,” he later added when asked if they’d ever slept together.
Attempting to extend empathy toward the deceased woman’s parents Porter said “they didn’t deserve, the frenzied politicisation” of their daughter’s death over the past week– “a trial by media” he deemed it.
But he flat rejected calls to step down or step aside saying he had worked tirelessly in public service for the bulk of his adult life.
“I have given the bulk of my adult working life to public service and the law. I have given absolutely everything I had in the tank over the last year to our government, which has been desperately trying to help the country out of the worst crisis in its modern history.”
“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.”
But he said he would be seeking support for his mental health at the request of his family and loved ones, and had informed the Prime Minister he would be taking a couple of “short weeks” to do so.
“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 independent answer is, ‘I really don’t know'”.
So, should this be the end of the matter as Porter and the Prime Minister will no doubt desperately campaign for?
I would hazard a guess that few women in this country would be nodding their heads.
As Alley Pascoe wrote this morning, the events of the past three weeks have left Australia’s women reeling. We’re galvanised into action, but we’re also triggered. We know that sexual assault isn’t an abstract concept it’s a visceral threat to each and every one of us.
If the Prime Minster is serious about reforming parliamentary culture and drawing a hard line on women’s safety, there’s no way he can justify zero action be taken against Minister Porter– a man, who let’s not forget, has already been accused of several other abuses of power.
In a Four Corners report last year, Porter was accused of being “deeply sexist” a misogynist, and to have exploited his position throughout his career in politics– including an alleged affair with a junior staffer.
University peers spoke of a young man treating women as “jokes”; ridiculing them for the way they looked and showing a gratuitous fascination in sexual conduct and violence.
“For a long time Christian has benefited from the silence around his conduct and his behaviour,” barrister, Kathleen Foley told Four Corners. “That silence has meant that his behaviour has been tolerated and after a certain amount of time, the silence means that it’s condoned and it’s acceptable,”
Having known Porter for the majority of her life and experiencing his conduct as a young, privileged, ruthlessly ambitious man, Foley’s statement is damning.
In the same program, former Liberal advisor Rachelle Miller said she had been accosted by a drunk Porter following a parliamentary event. She recalled feeling demeaned after the minister commented lewdly on the way she looked.
Of course, these accounts do not render Porter a rapist, but they do cast enough doubt on his conduct; his regard and treatment of women.
Yes, it’s true the woman who came forward with these harrowing claims is tragically no longer here to share her account. Although she detailed her experience in diaries and dossiers, and spoke with police at length, she never gave a formal statement. From a legal standpoint, the case is closed.
From a parliamentary standpoint, and a broader social and cultural one, the case is gaping open.
The Prime Minister has the capacity to call for an independent inquiry into these allegations. He has the capacity to lay a stake in the ground and use this as the catalyst for change.
For decades, allegations of sexual misconduct have been expertly brushed under the carpet. Lisa Wilkinson put it perfectly when, during an interview with Brittany Higgins a fortnight ago, she suggested that the easiest place to be a rapist and get away with it was Parliament House.
It’s time for that narrative to change. Too many women have been destroyed by this culture of cover-ups and power plays. We’re calling time.