Christian Porter has categorically denied that he raped a 16-year-old friend in 1988, when he would have been 17, and declared he will not stand down as attorney general, suggesting that if he did “there would be no rule of law left to protect”.
An emotional Porter fronted journalists in Perth after days of speculation about the identity of the cabinet minister who was the subject of the historical rape allegation.
He confirmed he was the person who had been named by the now deceased woman, but denied he sexually assaulted her.
“Nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened,” the attorney general said.
Porter said he intended to remain in his portfolio, but would take a short break to tend to his mental health.
He said if he was to step down “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”.
Asked whether it was appropriate for him to remain as attorney general, Porter said societies had due process for a reason.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Porter said it was ultimately up to others to determine whether or not there should be an independent inquiry into the allegations now the New South Wales police had ended its investigations.
Even though such inquiries are commonplace when allegations are levelled in corporations, Porter queried what such an inquiry could achieve.
He said he would be asked “to disprove something that happened 33 years ago – I honestly don’t know what I would say to that inquiry”. He suggested such a process wouldn’t afford him procedural fairness, because he “couldn’t succeed to disapprove something”.
Porter said he’d been subjected to trial by media in a “hyper-politicised world” and he contended various allegations had been published without first being put to him. Guardian Australia contacted Porter’s office for comment about the allegations last Friday, and then twice this week. Calls, emails and texts weren’t returned.
The attorney general said he had never seen a letter from the woman’s friends sent to Scott Morrison outlining the allegations against him. The letter included an attached statement from the woman recording her recollections of events in January 1988.
While Porter categorically denied the sexual assault allegations, he acknowledged that some of the now deceased woman’s recollections articulated in her statement might have been accurate.
He said he remembered the woman showing “three boys” how to iron a shirt. Asked whether he had told her she would make a wonderful wife one day, Porter said: “I don’t remember that specifically but it is not impossible that that was said.”
Porter said he also remembered there had been a formal dinner at the university where they stayed in 1988, and “going out dancing sounds about right”.
When asked whether he recalled going out for dinner, then going dancing and then walking the woman back to her room, Porter said “that may well be the case”, before saying it was 33 years ago.
Asked whether he could have forgotten other details of events three decades ago, Porter said: “Could I have forgotten or misconstrued the things that I have read, which are said to have occurred? Absolutely not. They just didn’t happen.”
Porter suggested the prime minister had the letter when they spoke last Wednesday, but Morrison told journalists on Monday the letter wasn’t in his possession until Friday, although he was aware of the allegations contained in the document. The prime minister said he hadn’t read the letter, but had been briefed on its contents.
Asked whether Morrison had shown him the letter from the woman’s friends, Porter said it was “with the AFP”. He said police in NSW had not contacted him prior to determining not to proceed with an investigation into the allegations.
While maintaining specific allegations had not been put to him, and he did not read the letter or statement sent to Morrison by her friends, Porter said he first became aware of “rumours” last November.
“There was a very old friend of mine, whom I had dinner with, and she had said to me that a group of people were spreading a rumour, that I had in some way offended against the person 33 years ago,” he said.
Porter said the suggestion was put to him “just in the vaguest terms”.
He said he did not have contact with the woman who had levelled the allegation since the late 1980s. Asked whether he had sought contact with her indirectly, Porter replied: “No.”
The woman who levelled the allegation against Porter raised her allegation with friends in June 2019. She went to Adelaide police in November 2019 for advice on how to report a historical sexual assault matter, which she alleged occurred in Sydney in 1988 when she was 16.
South Australian police referred the matter to NSW police, which took a lead role in the investigation in February 2020, establishing Strike Force Wyndarra.
However, the pandemic interfered with plans for the woman to be formally interviewed by police and she withdrew her complaint in June 2020 without having given a formal statement, and died shortly after.
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.