Attorney-General Christian Porter deserves the backlash received from the public and media against his denial of rape allegations. Contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence reports.
*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape
ON MONDAY, Justinian founding editor Richard Ackland did what the rest of us in the media didn’t do, wouldn’t do, couldn’t do.
He hauled Attorney-General “The Christian” Porter out of the Morrison Cabinet’s overstuffed dirty open secrets drawer, naming him as a man accused of the alleged anal rape of a 16-year-old in 1988 when both teenagers were participating in a debating competition in NSW.
For months, there had been loud rumour in media, legal and political circles that Porter was an alleged rapist. It is difficult to understand how and why this powerful triumvirate remained silent and thus compliant in maintaining the code of omerta.
Fear of legal action is a great disincentive.
But there is invariably a way to break a story in the public interest. Truth is the muscle that must flex under the obesity of mere prurient interest. The ABC’s Four Corners came close in documenting the case and circumstances of the unnamed alleged victim, but did not name the alleged perpetrator. Ackland did.
In his newsy column, ‘500 words or thereabouts’, Ackland’s blistering and legally lethal critique of the allegation against Porter laid bare the squalid business of political obfuscation suffocating any reportage of the alleged rape.
‘At the time 4 Corners was preparing Inside the Canberra Bubble, it already had information that Porter had been the subject of an allegation of rape 32 years earlier. At the time Porter was 17, turning 18 on July 11, and the complainant was 16.
The ABC’s lawyers got to it and said “don’t publish”. The complainant had committed suicide four months before the broadcast, so the allegation could not be tested.’
His naming of Christian Porter lanced a cyst decades in the making.
Porter came to Canberra as a “big swinging dick”
Legal presumptions aside, there were ample pointers that Porter came to Canberra as a “big swinging dick”.
The public snogging with a young staffer in a bar in broad moonlight was one thing — only to have the execrable Alan Tudge (Robodebt, contempt of court, and criminal breaches as acting immigration minister) demand that the photographic evidence be deleted by an on-the-spot reporter.
Initially, Porter responded to the story saying he was looking at his “legal options”. He flatly denied that it ever happened, falsely claiming that ABC 4 Corners reporter Louise Milligan had never contacted him.
Melbourne barrister Kathleen Foley, who knew Porter in Perth for a long time from the age of 16, had these telling insights:
I’m here because, for a long time, Christian has benefited from the silence around his conduct and his behaviour and the silence has meant that his behaviour has been tolerated and after a certain amount of time, the silence means that it’s condoned and that it’s considered acceptable. And I’m here because I don’t think that his behaviour should be tolerated, and it is not acceptable.
For all of that time, I’ve known him to be someone who was in my opinion and based on what I saw, deeply sexist and actually misogynist in his treatment of women, in the way that he spoke about women.
Christian’s persona, particularly at UWA, was the sidelining of women in any kind of forum in which they wanted to be involved. They were treated as a joke, they were objects of ridicule. The only point to women, as far as I could tell from Christian’s way of treating women, was for him to hit on them, or for women to be made fun of, particularly for the way that they looked.
Ackland points out that the above is:
‘...interesting context, none of which establishes that Porter anally raped a young woman in 1988. What will emerge before too long is the boilerplate denial by Porter that he did any such thing. This is the move-on moment.’
Indeed, two days later on Wednesday, Ackland’s prophecy came to pass when Porter held what transpired to be a press conference and statement where he repeated a mantra denying anything had happened at all — nothing to see here. It was a lame performance, riddled with inconsistencies and subsequent confusion over possible later meetings with the alleged victim.
Insofar as the calibre of his written opening press statement was concerned, it was a fiasco. Time and again, Porter has proven his legal authoritarianism in his role as Attorney-General, riding roughshod over we ordinary people and our freedoms and seeming to take delight in it.
Yes, he teared up at times over his predicament. But unless I missed it, I heard no compassion for his alleged victim, who allegedly killed herself last year. I save my tears for her. And for the excoriating pain of her reality.
If Porter had been a footballer or rugger player, his bollocks would have been publicly well squeezed in the media scrum and by now such an allegation would likely have been plastered over front pages and he would be invited to participate in another kind of reality show.
So why are politicians accorded special privileges by the press?
When it comes to allegations of rape and sexual harassment, why is the word of a politician deemed greater than that of a woman, dead or alive? Why does the word of the male accused seemingly hold sway over the word of the female accuser outside of a court of law?
What is it about a penis that reigns supreme over a vagina?
Regardless of Porter’s arrogant assertions that after he comes back from sick leave, he will continue in the role of AG, he will ultimately be forced to stand down. His position is untenable as the Commonwealth’s chief lawman.
As Ackland states:
Indeed, there is a presumption of innocence to which people cling. A conviction requires a legal standard to be met.
But, this is politics, with a quite different standard. A democracy cannot have as its first law officer a person against whom there is an unresolved allegation of rape.
In these circumstances legal presumptions do not amount to a hill of beans — the Prime Minister’s statement of ministerial standards say as much. It’s what washes politically, and if the allegation is seen as a deadweight for Schmo’s regime, then The Christian will have to walk the plank. Proof or no proof.
Morrison and Porter not fit for purpose
The dirty war on women by the body politic spearheaded by the self-appointed father of the nation and Hillsong propagandist Scott Morrison now warrants his resignation as Prime Minister.
He is not fit for purpose. Nor is Christian Porter.
Weeks of cowardly obfuscation and the categoric failure to enact any duties of care towards accusers, instead always deferring and protecting the accused, takes a leaf from the Catholic Church’s continuing hymn sheet; its lyrics laced with poisonous misogyny where the powerful and not the meek inherit the Earth and women are the servants and playthings of men — there for the taking. There for the breaking.
The stains of stale semen from alleged rapists, spanning decades, now stain the pages of Hansard and our collective history.
Tragically, one woman, an alleged victim of a historical rape by a current Cabinet Minister, is already dead by her own hand and several others are critically injured. The body count may well be higher. The number of allegations may well increase as more alleged victims and supporters come forward.
One of the reasons I asked permission from Ackland to plunder his article was to show how easy it is to build a case for an independent investigation into the alleged Porter rape.
It repulsed me to hear Porter say he had not bothered to read the dead woman’s statement prepared for police. Excuse me? Is this our Attorney-General speaking? Who the hell does he think he is? Where does he get off?
His asinine conduct was compounded by his stupidity. To hear him deny something that he hadn’t read was farcical. How did he know what he was denying, then?
And if Commonwealth or State Police think they can get away with saying there is no case to answer without even questioning Christian Porter or the other “boys” as he called the others in the debating team – or those close to the woman – then they are clearly not properly investigating the matter and are incapable of providing a sound opinion to the people they have forgotten they serve.
Did the woman kill herself? Was she driven to it? Was she threatened? We need answers.
Just as Christian Porter is entitled to the presumption of innocence, so is she entitled to be believed — and that belief tested as far as possible.
I hope that the family will all let her name to be known to us. Because, Mr Prime Minister, you and your wife Jenny might well ponder “what if she had been your daughter?”
The thing is Mr Morrison, she is your daughter. She is the daughter I never had.
She’s everybody’s daughter.
If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
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