Australia

Julie Bishop supports ‘logical’ inquest into death of Christian Porter’s accuser

Former cabinet minister Julie Bishop says the next logical step in the Christian Porter saga is an inquest led by the South Australian coroner.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is on leave after vehemently denying allegations he raped a woman more than 30 years ago in Sydney.

The woman who made the claim took her own life last year after telling NSW Police she did not want to proceed with her complaint.

A number of her friends and colleagues told the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday night she had told them about the alleged rape and they had done their best to help her report it to police.

Friend Matthew Deeble said it had been a “great relief to her” to be able to start the police process, however her actions had been stymied by COVID restrictions.

The program also revealed the woman spoke to a counsellor in 2013 about being sexually assaulted in 1988 at the age of 16.

The counsellor said she was torn about pursuing the matter because it could ruin the man’s life.

The pair reportedly talked about the positive and negative outcomes of seeking justice and whether it was worth it to take it to court.

The counsellor told the ABC that the woman went away and “was going to sit on that. She obviously sat on it for about five years”.

While Labor and some of the woman’s friends have backed calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations, Ms Bishop said an inquest was appropriate.

“It’s within the criminal justice system. There are checks and balances and there are statutory powers,” she told the ABC’s 7.30 program.

“It has legal standing. And so, that is the next step and I understand from media reporting that’s what the family would welcome.”

Federal minister Anne Ruston also backed an inquest, but said it was up to the coroner to make an independent decision.

“I think everybody will be happy if the coroner in South Australia decides to investigate,” she told the ABC.

Ms Bishop said she had heard of the allegations against Mr Porter six months ago from an “informal source”, but the claims had not been made directly to her.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the victim wanted the matter withdrawn and the case was closed because she had not provided a statement before dying.

“It is not impossible but almost impossible to proceed with a matter like this without the victim … the matter itself, even with the victim, probably would have struggled to get before a court,” he told 2GB radio.

The alleged rape of Brittany Higgins in the ministerial office of Linda Reynolds, shortly before a federal election was called in 2019, has also led to pressure for broader reform of political culture.

Ms Bishop said the parliament needed a formal staff induction program and an independent complaints system.

“There’s a powerful culture within all political parties … to toe the line, don’t rock the boat, don’t do anything that would damage the party’s prospects,” she said.

“Paradoxically, it can mean a culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional or even illegal behaviour get a sense of protection.”

Ms Bishop said in her experience an allegation of this nature would have been immediately brought to the prime minister’s attention.

“I know there’s an inquiry into what the prime minister’s office knew and why they handled it the way they did.

“So I guess we’ll know why it was this information was withheld from the prime minister.”

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