Wed, 14 Apr 2021

Australia's government under pressure from historic sex allegations

Independent Australia
01 Mar 2021, 17:57 GMT+10

Rocked by another horrific scandal, the Coalition Government has again attempted to avoid confronting the issue of an alleged rape in 1988, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

*CONTENT WARNING: This article discusses rape

AN ALLEGATION OF the brutal anal rape of a child in 1988 has been made against an unnamed minister in the Federal Government Cabinet.

The victim took her own life in June 2020. NSW Police have confirmed that a criminal investigation into the allegation dies with the victim.

Despite their knowledge that police will not investigate because the complainant is dead, Government ministers and some journalists continue to claim that the matter must be left to the police.

All of them are wrong, according to police.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that he has referred the allegations to police.

Why Morrison's response to rape is woefully inadequate

If parliamentary culture fosters sexual violence, treats rape as a political problem, undermines women and covers up criminal offences, then "further improvements" won't cut it.

Simon Birmingham, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, yesterday said the accused minister will not be stood aside and that the matter should be left to police.

On the ABC Insiders program, Australian Financial Review journalist Phil Coorey repeated the Government line.

He stated:

This seems at first blush to be willful ignorance, gross carelessness, the peddling of misinformation, or an attempt to yet again create and control a narrative that best favours the Government.

The accused minister has not come forward to defend himself against the allegations. It is not credible that anyone who is innocent would want to continue public life with accusations such as these left unaddressed. Yet, that appears to be the case.

It is also only a matter of time until the suspect is named. There appears to be no legal requirement to suppress his name, particularly as there will be no trial. He can also be named under parliamentary privilege.

It is undoubtedly in the public interest for his name to be released and were he anyone other than a Liberal Cabinet minister, he would not probably not be protected by anonymity. Footballers, for example, are stood aside while allegations of sexual assault are investigated and they are named. Not so much Cabinet ministers, it appears.

It is also remarkable that the accused minister appears to be happy for his Cabinet colleagues to be tainted by the rape allegations. As long as we do not know who the minister is, there are around sixteen possibilities in the Cabinet. Every time a Cabinet minister opens his mouth we can legitimately ask, are you the alleged rapist?

This can't help but have a destabilising effect on the Government, as its already tenuous legitimacy is further eroded by the presence of an anonymous alleged rapist in its highest ranks.

Sexual misconduct against political staffers must stop

Power imbalances and a culture of silence are just some factors that make political staffers vulnerable to sexual misconduct, writes Maria Maley.

Then there is the question of national security, a subject close to the hearts of both Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, also a Cabinet member. In 2017, when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, he had occasion to warn Christian Porter, prior to making him Attorney-General, that his drinking and his behaviours towards young women were leaving him open to the possibility of compromise, making him a security risk:

Mr Turnbull said:

By the same token, one may conclude that an anonymous Cabinet minister who is accused of the brutal anal rape of a child might well be a prime target for blackmail and is a serious security risk.

Indeed, everyone in the Cabinet who is aware of and concealing the alleged rapist's identity is a security risk and vulnerable to exploitation.

Is this Government even tenable while this matter is "left to the coppers"?

It is alarming that Morrison seems oblivious to the security dangers the situation presents. It's even more alarming that Morrison seems entirely impervious to the immorality of protecting and hiding an alleged child rapist.

The hideous situation has come to light just days after the Government spectacularly failed to cope with the alleged rape of media advisor, Brittany Higgins, in Parliament House just metres from the Prime Minister's office.

Ms Higgins was left unconscious and half-naked by her attacker on Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' couch. This could have cost Ms Higgins her life, as she was inebriated and unable to care for herself. Security guards "checked on" Ms Higgins through the night, but nobody called for medical assistance.

It takes more than 'speaking up' to change a toxic culture

Expecting women to speak up after a sexual assault won't change the toxic masculine culture that allows violence to happen in the first place.

At least 30 people, including ministers, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate and the Prime Minister's Office most senior staff knew about this "serious incident" and none of them informed the Prime Minister until two years later.

The Morrison Government is a sewer. It is steeped in allegations of rape and sexual assault of the most serious and sickening kind. It is almost certain that Morrison will attempt to brazen out this latest allegation. He will not stand the minister aside and he will continue to contend that it is a matter for police, in full knowledge that the police cannot pursue criminal charges.

The minister will not be investigated by police. He will not be exonerated. His name will not be cleared. Suspicion will linger over the heads of all male Cabinet members, including Scott Morrison, Christian Porter and Peter Dutton.

While we know not all Cabinet ministers are alleged child rapists, we do not know which one is. The Prime Minister is doing everything possible to conceal that knowledge from us.

If you would like to speak to someone about sexual violence, please call the 1800 Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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