The South Australian coroner says an investigation into the death of a woman who accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of raping her in 1988 is “not finished”, and has not ruled out a coronial inquest into her reported suicide.
The bombshell update came just moments after Mr Porter outed himself as the formerly unnamed cabinet minister at the centre of the sexual assault allegations made in an anonymous letter.
He strenuously denied the claims, saying “the things that are being claimed did not happen” and that he “did not sleep with the victim”.
“Nothing in the allegations that have been printed ever happened,” Mr Porter said.
His admission came after days of frenzied speculation online, with countless social media posts theorising that he was the cabinet member at the heart of the claims.
Many journalists and political insiders had known that the allegations in the anonymous letter related to Mr Porter, but were restricted from publishing due to legal constraints.
The Attorney-General did not rule out taking legal action, on grounds of defamation, in relation to conversations around the letter.
It’s understood he has sought advice from prominent defamation lawyer Peter Bartlett, of firm MinterEllison.
Mr Porter said standing aside from his cabinet positions would set “a new standard”.
“If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation. Every child we raise can have their lives destroyed by online reporting of accusations alone,” he said.
“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, so I will not be part of letting that happen.”
While not formally standing aside or relinquishing his political positions, Mr Porter said he will take several weeks’ personal leave to “assess and hopefully improve my own mental health”.
Greens senator Larissa Waters called for an independent inquiry into the rape allegations – warning of a “chilling effect on survivors speaking out”.
“Mr Porter must stand aside for the duration of an independent inquiry into these allegations,” Senator Waters said.
“It is untenable for him to remain in the role and untenable for the Prime Minister not to order an independent inquiry.”
Coroner flags potential inquest
The woman who made the accusations against Mr Porter has since passed away, having died by suicide in June in Adelaide.
NSW Police said on Tuesday there was “insufficient admissible evidence to proceed” with a criminal probe into the allegations, and that “NSW Police Force has determined the matter is now closed”.
The South Australian coroner, however, said an investigation into the woman’s death continued, and that a coronial inquest remained a possibility.
BREAKING from South Australian coroner, on the June 2020 death of the woman who had made rape allegations against Christian Porter:
"I have determined that the investigation is incomplete"
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) March 3, 2021
“While [South Australia Police] has provided information to me, I have determined that the investigation is incomplete. This was particularly evident having regard to information contained in recent media reports,” state coroner David Whittle said.
“That investigation is continuing and, once that investigation has been completed to my satisfaction, I shall determine whether to hold an inquest.”
Mr Whittle said that an investigation file on the woman’s death had only been delivered to him by police on Monday morning.
In his press conference, Mr Porter claimed NSW Police “never contacted me” in the course of their investigation.
TND contacted NSW Police for their response to that claim. In reply, police sent a previous generic statement that had been circulated a day earlier.
Journalists deny Porter’s claims
The Attorney-General claimed the allegations had never been put to him by anyone in media, law or politics before the ABC published its first story last Friday.
He said it was “so staggering to me that this was circulating out there and no one ever raised it with me.”
Labor senator Penny Wong and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the woman had told them of her allegations as early as 2019, while Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he was aware of a “rumour” in November.
Mr Porter said he heard a “rumour” at that time – around the airing of the Four Corners report into treatment of women in the Liberal Party, which Mr Porter was featured in – but only heard the substance of the allegations last Wednesday, when politicians received the anonymous letter.
He claimed there had been “a whispering campaign” against him, with “a rumour being spread by a small number of people”.
“No one put anything in any detail to me seeking a response,” Mr Porter claimed.
“No journalist has put the detail of the allegations to me in a way that would allow seeking a response, not ever.”
But several prominent journalists – including from the Sydney Morning Herald, 3AW Radio and Crikey – quickly responded online that they had indeed contacted Mr Porter’s office in relation to the claims.
We tried . Left messages with staff. Calls not returned .
— Neil Mitchell (@3AWNeilMitchell) March 3, 2021
— Kate McClymont (@Kate_McClymont) March 3, 2021
I've emailed every single male cabinet minister's media team multiple times this week and have not received any response from anyone
— Amber Schultz (@AmberMaySchultz) March 3, 2021
The New Daily contacted two of Mr Porter’s media advisers on Tuesday afternoon, asking for comment on the countless social media claims about the Attorney-General, but did not receive any type of response.
Late on Wednesday night, Mr Porter’s office issued a clarifying statement, saying he was claiming he had been given no details of the allegations specifically before the ABC published the claims last week.
“Clearly, in considering the Attorney-General’s media conference in full, he was referring to never having received in any substantive form the allegations against him before they were aired on ABC last Friday and not to inquiries driven by the ABC’s airing of the allegations,” a spokesperson for Mr Porter said.
“Clearly he was not referencing subsequent media inquiries.”
They also reiterated that Mr Porter says he “has never seen or had put to him the statement or pack of documents from the complainant”.
“To have received them when he was the subject of them and they were matters for law enforcement agencies, it would have been inappropriate for him to access them,” the spokesperson said.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will fill in as acting attorney-general.
Some criticised that appointment, considering Senator Cash’s actions around Brittany Higgins, her former employee.
Ms Higgins alleged she was raped in 2019 in the Parliament House office of her then-boss, defence minister Linda Reynolds. She later moved to Senator Cash’s office.
This cannot be for real. https://t.co/xTxLNrpZ9P
— Senator Murray Watt (@MurrayWatt) March 3, 2021
Labor senator Murray Watt was among opposition figures to question the decision.
- For confidential support and services around sexual assault, contact 1800 RESPECT online or by phone on 1800 737 732. If you or someone you know needs help contact Life Line on 13 11 14