Scott Morrison says the issue of Christian Porter’s historical rape allegations is closed, despite mounting calls inside and outside Parliament for an independent inquiry.
“I’m looking forward to him returning to his duties once that period of leave is completed,” the Prime Minister said on Thursday, in his first public statement since Mr Porter outed himself as the accused attacker.
“My judgment is based on the report of the police … They are the competent and authorised authorities to make the judgments about any such allegations. They have made their conclusions and, as people have said in similar occasions in the past, that’s where the matter rests.”
Mr Porter vehemently denied the allegations he raped a woman – who has since died – in Sydney in 1988, saying in an extraordinary press conference on Wednesday that it “did not happen”.
But Labor, the Greens and crossbench MPs continue to call for a further independent or judicial review. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has demanded “a proper investigation”.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison said he looked forward to Mr Porter returning to work after his planned period of mental health leave. The PM flatly rejected any further investigation into the rape claims, saying “the rule of law” meant further processes were inappropriate.
“I have to make my decisions based on the process followed by the police. There is no other alternative for a prime minister than the rule
of law,” Mr Morrison said on a visit to Tomago, in the NSW Hunter region.
“There’s not another process. There is the rule of law.”
“When that process runs its course, as the NSW Police has said it has, then the government must rely on the rule of law.”
Mr Morrison said Mr Porter was “looking forward to coming back and to resuming his duties”.
“We have a lot to do, and we are doing it,” he said.
PM wants ‘generosity’ to Linda Reynolds
The PM also responded to an explosive story – first published in The Australian newspaper – revealing Defence Minister Linda Reynolds had referred to her former employee Brittany Higgins as a “lying cow”.
Ms Higgins came forward three weeks ago with claims that she had been raped on a couch in Senator Reynolds’ Parliament House office in 2019.
Senator Reynolds has not denied using the phrase. But she said her comments were not about Ms Higgins’ allegations, rather they were a “comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented”.
Mr Morrison said Senator Reynolds – who is also on medical leave – “deeply regretted” the remarks made “in a private office” and had “immediately apologised”.
He also called for “generosity” in how the comments were perceived, saying Senator Reynolds was under “significant stress”.
“People directly involved by these events … are our primary concern. But equally, there have been others who have been drawn into this. They’re human beings,” the PM said.
“They say things that sometimes they deeply regret. I’m sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret … They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them.”
Inquiry calls grow
Earlier, numerous opposition politicians called for the government to take action on the allegations against Mr Porter.
“There has to be some form of inquiry or other process to give people the assurance that Mr Porter is a fit and proper person to be in the Cabinet. What sort of form that takes is a matter for the PM and he should take that responsibility,” Labor senator Penny Wong told Radio National on Thursday.
“They occur in a range of circumstances, they occurred with the High Court judge (Dyson Heydon) … they occur in terms of the teaching profession,” she said.
“There hasn’t been an examination of the claims. You’ve had the Prime Minister just say he’s had a discussion with Christian Porter – apparently without even reading or without allowing Christian Porter to read what has been claimed.”
Greens leader Adam Bandt said Mr Morrison “must establish an independent inquiry”. He slammed the Coalition for its “insulting” and “appalling handling” of the rape allegations.
With his appalling handling of these serious rape allegations, PM is insulting victims & the country.
If PM & A-G won't even read the accusations against Porter, then an independent inquiry must.
Women's statements must be heard & taken seriously.
We need an inquiry.
— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) March 3, 2021
The question of how an inquiry would work has been the subject of much discussion. Proponents say such independent inquiries are common in other workplaces and sporting codes.
Michael Bradley of Marque Lawyers – who acted for the woman who has accused Mr Porter of rape – said a judicial inquiry, led by a retired judge, could work. But, he admitted to The New Daily that he was aware of no precedent.
What we are now witnessing is the trial by media which Christian Porter yesterday – rightly – said is the worst possible outcome. It could have been avoided if the PM had instituted an inquiry to address and resolve the matter. It's not too late to take that step.
— marquelawyers (@marquelawyers) March 3, 2021
In a tweet on Thursday, Marque Lawyers again called for an inquiry, saying that the current “trial by media” was “the worst possible outcome”.
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