New details have emerged of the event at the centre of the rape allegations levelled against Attorney-General Christian Porter.
Mr Porter has strenuously denied the accusations, and New South Wales police will not proceed with investigations into the matter due to the accuser’s death, which the South Australian coroner is investigating.
But the scandal continues to embroil the Morrison government despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison standing firmly by his A-G.
On Friday night, The Guardian revealed that Morrison government Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and Health Minister Greg Hunt were also in attendance at the 1988 debating competition at the University of Sydney where Mr Porter’s accuser alleged the sexual assault occurred.
Mr Hunt attended the competition as a member of the University of Melbourne team, but a spokesman for the minister told The Guardian that “to the best of his knowledge, he had never met the woman nor is it a name that he recognises”.
“He is also not aware of having met Mr Porter until he was a member of parliament,” the spokesman said.
Mr Fletcher attended the tournament as an adjudicator, The Guardian reported.
The accusations against Mr Porter have shaken the top echelons of the nation’s political and legal establishments.
Australia’s largest law firm MinterEllison entered the fray this week with the firm’s boss apologising to staff after a senior partner took on the Attorney-General as a client.
In an email to more than 2000 staff on Wednesday, MinterEllison chief executive Annette Kimmitt apologised for the “pain” the decision may have caused staff.
Ms Kimmitt said she had only learnt of MinterEllison lawyer Peter Bartlett’s decision to represent Mr Porter after the Attorney-General went public in the media with his denial of the accusations.
Morrison rejects inquiry push
Scott Morrison has rejected intensifying pressure for an inquiry into rape allegations against the Attorney-General despite the issue threatening to linger indefinitely.
Christian Porter emphatically denies the alleged 1988 incident ever happened, while the woman who made the accusation took her own life last year.
The prime minister said NSW Police closing an investigation because of a lack of admissible evidence meant the issue was concluded.
“We should be able to move on from that,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
“There is no alternative process. There is no alternative rule of law that should apply to one Australian and not to another.”
The woman’s supporters and Labor are refusing to let the allegations go, saying an independent inquiry is the only way to find a resolution.
Mr Morrison denied his government needed a circuit breaker.
“I don’t accept this proposition that any Australian should be subject to a rule of law that is different to anyone else,” he said.
“There is the presumption of innocence and I believe in the presumption of innocence.”
The woman’s family is supportive of any inquiry that would shed light on the circumstances of her death.
She died one day after telling police she did not want to proceed with the complaint for medical and personal reasons.
Mr Morrison said he would welcome a coronial inquest into her death.
“The coronial inquiry would be into the rather terrible events with the death by suicide of the woman at the centre of this,” he said.
“If the coroner sought that, then I have no doubt that the Attorney-General would co-operate with any coronial process.”
The South Australian coroner has requested more information from the state’s police but the future of a potential inquest is undetermined.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the attorney-general’s position as first law officer meant an independent inquiry was crucial.
“The fact that questions will continue to be asked is one of the reasons why there should be an inquiry,” he told reporters in Perth.
“He is a cabinet minister and Scott Morrison needs to assure himself, but also the Australian people, that he is a fit and proper person to hold that role.”
Natasha Stott Despoja, who is the chair of domestic violence prevention group Our Watch, said the government’s response angered her.
“I don’t see how you can avoid an independent inquiry now,” she told ABC radio.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie’s preference is for a coronial inquest but she would also support an independent inquiry.
Mr Porter, who has the support of Mr Morrison, is on two weeks’ leave but insists he won’t quit cabinet.
The government has been under intense pressure for weeks after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague at Parliament House.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins will lead a review of the workplace culture in federal politics in response to the claims.
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