Julie Bishop takes aim at federal government ministers over handling of rape allegations

Julie Bishop has criticised how senior Morrison government ministers have handled the sexual assault allegation raised by Brittany Higgins and the historical rape allegation against attorney general Christian Porter.

Porter has denied the allegation stating “it didn’t happen”.

In a rebuke both to the defence minister, Linda Reynolds, and the skills and employment minister, Michaelia Cash, for their handling of the Higgins complaint the former deputy Liberal leader told ABC TV she would have felt a “duty” to report an allegation of rape to the police.

The comments echo Scott Morrison’s rebuke of Reynolds e his own staff who Bishop suggested had “withheld” information from the prime minister that he would “want to know about”.

Bishop on Monday night also questioned why Morrison and Porter had failed to read a letter and attached statement from a woman accusing the attorney general of raping her in January 1988. Porter has denied the allegation stating “it didn’t happen”.

Appearing on ABC’s 7.30 on International Women’s Day amid a storm about the wider culture in parliament house including the handling of harassment and assault complaints, Bishop said there was a “powerful culture within all political parties to ensure that no individual does anything that would damage the party’s prospects”.

Speaking generally, the former foreign minister said that the enormous pressure to “toe the line” and not “rock the boat” meant a “culture develops whereby those who are prone to inappropriate or unprofessional or even illegal behaviour get a sense of protection”, the former foreign minister said.

Asked about Higgins’ allegation that she was raped by a fellow Liberal staffer in Reynolds’ office in April 2019, Bishop said in her experience an allegation of a serious indictable offence “would have been brought to the attention of the prime minister immediately”.

“If someone had come to me with an allegation that a rape occurred … I would have felt a duty, not only to that person, but to others in the workplace to inform the police," lei disse.

“If the person making the complaint wanted privacy, wanted to maintain utmost confidentiality, that is a matter that person should raise with the police or with their lawyers, in a discussion with the police.”

On the allegation against Porter, Bishop said it was “unspeakably sad” for all involved.

“The challenge of course is that the allegations are historic, the woman who made the allegations took her own life, and now a serving cabinet minister has been informed that the police investigation is at an end," lei disse. "Così, there are no answers.”

Bishop described the potential for the South Australian coroner to start an inquest as the “next logical step” and one that the family would welcome. The comments align Bishop with Morrison’s position against an independent inquiry.

Unlike an independent inquiry, Bishop said a coronial inquest was “within the criminal justice system”. “There are checks and balances and there are statutory powers. It has legal standing.”

Bishop said she “didn’t work closely” with Porter and “no one made complaints [about him] to me”.

“The first I heard about these particular allegations was about six months ago from an informal source.”

Asked about Morrison and Porter’s failure to read the complaint, Bishop said she also had not seen the material. “But I wonder why they haven’t," lei disse.

“I think in order to deny allegations you would need to know the substance of the allegations or at least the detail of the allegations.”

Morrison has explained he was briefed on the content of the complaint and put it to Porter, who denied the alleged sexual assault. Both argue that handing the material to police rather than reading it themselves was the appropriate course of action.

A sexual assault counsellor told the ABC on Monday the woman who accused Porter came to her for help in 2013 – which is believed to be the first time the complainant disclosed the allegation.

The alleged victim sought help from the counsellor about six times, ABC’s Four Corners program reported.

The Morrison government has engaged Kate Jenkins, the sex discrimination commissioner, per lead its review into parliamentary workplace culture. Jenkins has said Australia is now “at a turning point” with cultural change “across the board”.

Bishop argued staffers were reluctant to use the current process because complaints to the finance department were overseen by the minister – a political figure.

“People are concerned that if they raise a complaint, if they raise an issue, then it may well become politicised, it will become public, it will be the subject of an FOI application.”

Bishop also suggested that although having more women in politics was “not the immediate answer” it would help because a “critical mass” would change unacceptable behaviour.

She said unidentified Liberal men who reportedly called themselves “big swinging dicks” had not thwarted her career given she was deputy Liberal leader for 11 years and foreign minister for five.

On Friday, il ministro delle finanze, Simon Birmingham, said the Australian parliament “should set the standard for the nation”.

“The parliament of Australia should reflect best practice in the prevention of and response to, any instances of bullying, sexual harassment, or sexual assault," Egli ha detto.

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline è 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 o visita www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.

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