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Politics Editorial

Big swinging dicks and the rule of law

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

In a week in which the Attorney-General – after many days of speculation – finally admitted he was the person accused of the brutal rape of a 16-year-old girl in 1988, it seemed unlikely that anything that followed could shock us.

And yet, the aftershocks have been something to behold.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

"I am not standing down or aside"said Porter, because:

“...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.”

Also, there would be no inquiry, independent or otherwise, said the Prime Minister, because:

“The rule of law is the essential process by which all Australians are subject to. And there is an equality before the law as well.”

And then, just in case anyone had any doubts about the level of misogyny within the Liberal Party, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed the existence of a boys’ club, first alluded to by former Liberal MP Dr Sharman Stone.

Not the kind of club that plays golf or attends the footy without inviting female co-workers, though they may also do those things. This is a club made up of men – grown men, elected officials – who like to call themselves the "big swinging dicks". A club that existed, or still exists, in order for members to bully their female co-workers and keep them away from positions to which they believe only men are entitled.

On the subject of big swinging dicks, Scott Morrison said:

“Well, I’d agree…with Julie Bishop, that they weren’t very successful.”

Plus:

“I understand she was referring to issues of about a decade ago.”

Was the PM a former or current member of this organised bullying group? Was the Attorney-General? The Home Affairs Minister? Does it still exist?

Then there’s the mainstream media’s slow but steady withdrawal from the idea of an independent inquiry. 

Even the much-awaited Four Corners investigation, 'Bursting the Canberra Bubble', featured the former president of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses, indicating an inquiry into the rape allegations against Porter would “open the floodgates”. He also said that this would be “unprecedented” after NSW Police declared they would not proceed with a criminal investigation.

And, if any of us still harbour doubts about the validity of this non-inquiry position, well, there’s always discrediting the victim. A job made easier, in this case, since the victim is now dead.

In a disgraceful and uninformed articleCrikey’s David Hardaker – who apparently has no expertise in psychiatry – misrepresented key medical facts about victims of sexual abuse, using a discredited and outdated concept known as “Recovered Memory Therapy”.

The article intimated that the alleged rape victim in the Porter case must have seized on this idea and then somehow misremembered the identity of the perpetrator. Essentially, the premise of this argument is akin to taking a scientific concept from 50 years ago and applying it to the now established scientific phenomenon of climate change in the 22nd Century (such as many in the current Government are also prone to do), but in this case, on the subject of mental health and trauma.

How convenient for alleged perpetrator Porter and his band of faithful apologists that so many in the media don’t do their homework and so many within the community are hoping for an easy defence such as this.

IA’s Dr Jennifer Wilson comprehensively tore this argument apart with the facts before concluding:

‘Hardaker’s article is an appalling confection, created for one reason only, and that is to cast doubt on Kate's account of her experience and to engender sympathy for the alleged perpetrator, Christian Porter.’

Far from interfering with the rule of law, eminent barrister Julian Burnside AO QC told IA:

Invoking the rule of law when the police didn’t investigate as a reason for not holding an inquiry is contrary to the essence of the rule of law.

Inquiries are held to establish the facts.

…The rule of law only begins to operate when the facts are known.

How much confidence can we have in the rule of law when serious allegations are left to speculation in the media and in private?

An independent inquiry, then, would establish the facts and demonstrate that everyone is subject to the same laws. It may find that a criminal case cannot be justified and provide Christian Porter with the opportunity to clear his name — a reason why many innocent people welcome such inquiries.

But Christian Porter's representation of the rule of law appears to be subject to several exceptions, including Bernard Collaery and Witness K – who have been denied the rights afforded to everyone else – or the truly frightening case of Witness J, who was tried, convicted and gaoled in secret.

Mr Porter is also the person charged with formulating a Federal integrity commission bill. An independent and effective Federal ICAC is something for which IA has long advocated. However, in Porter's proposed version, this may actually exclude cabinet ministers.

So much for the same laws applying to all.

Finally, while an inquiry would uphold the rule of law as Mr Burnside (and other law experts) have indicated, we really just want to have confidence in our justice system. We want to know that, on the balance of probability, our government ministers, our first law officers and the Attorney-General aren't rapists or criminals.

According to Julian Burnside:

“An independent inquiry, by a respected figure, would reinforce the rule of law and demonstrate that everyone is subject to the same laws.”

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online, or contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

This is an abridged version of an editorial originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly newsletter. You may read the full version of this article online in the IA members-only area.

You can follow IA managing editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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