Scott Morrison faces growing pressure to establish an independent investigation into a rape allegation against the Attorney-General, with Natasha Stott Despoja condemning the government, saying it has “demonstrably failed” in its response so far.
Christian Porter has strenuously denied the allegation he raped the girl in 1988 saying he was “friends” with her for the “the briefest periods” when they both attended debating competitions as teenagers three decades ago.
He insists he will not stand down from his position, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected calls from Labor, the Greens and Crossbench MPs to establish an independent investigation to examine the allegations levelled at his cabinet minister.
The woman took her own life in 2020, and the South Australian coroner is still considering whether to hold an inquest into the circumstances surrounding her death.
Ms Stott Despoja, who is a former South Australian senator and chair of Our Watch, said the way the government has handled the matter, “saddens and angers me as much as obviously the absolute horror nature of the allegations themselves”.
“I don’t see how you can avoid an independent inquiry now,” she told the ABC’s AM program.
She acknowledged “personal connections” to the situation because she is from Adelaide but argued that debate around the matter will have broader community impacts.
“I don’t sense any empathy from the powers that be, and I certainly think a lot of victims today and a lot of survivors really need solidarity and support,” she said.
“I think there’s an issue about how we treat the stories of women and victims and survivors, and this government has demonstrably failed.”
In 2020, Ms Stott Despoja became the first Australian elected to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Violence Against women, and her candidacy was supported by the federal government.
She has also been consulting with Finance Minister Simon Birmingham over the terms of reference for a review into the culture at Parliament, prompted by Brittany Higgins’s allegation she was raped inside Parliament by a male colleague in 2019.
Ms Stott Despoja said she was subjected to, “harassment, sexism [and] ridiculous stereotypes” after being elected to the Senate aged 26 and hoped this would be a “watershed” moment.
“There were very few days, let alone weeks, that went by without references to my appearance or even my love life – you know people commenting on how I dressed, and should I show my legs more,” she said.
“I think people need to inform the powers that be as to just how toxic and unequal that culture has been and been like that for decades.”
She confessed that it was her fear that women and girls will be deterred from pursuing careers in politics, following the revelations of the past few weeks.
“I don’t want to lose compassionate and passionate and principled people, and I especially don’t want to lose women generally or the next generation specifically,” she said.
“I hate to think what this period has meant for women who might have been contemplating a parliamentary career.
“But my message to them is take over parliament, don’t give up on parliament because it’s given up on women.”