The Bulletin

News

Despite his denial, Christian Porter will struggle with the 'Caesar's wife' test

  • Written by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Christian Porter’s denial of the historical rape allegation is unequivocal, but it won’t draw a line under the issue for him or for the Morrison government.

Porter declares he’s determined to stay in his job, saying to quit would mean anyone could lose their career “based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print”.

It’s true there is little natural justice in this situation. But in politics, there are often many competing factors.

Porter is right that it’s difficult to recall circumstances like this present crisis, with its passion and fevered coverage, and frenzied abuse via social media. And the worst of it is, there’s no way of definitively finding out what did or did not occur, and so where “justice” lies.

Christian Porter Attorney-General vigorously denied the rape allegations in an emotional press conference. Richard Wainwright/AAP

A woman who is now dead claimed she was raped by Porter when they were both teenagers. From what she told people and wrote, she had no doubt it happened. Porter says he has no doubt it did not happen.

The police can’t determine the truth, because the woman is deceased, and an independent inquiry wouldn’t be able to do so either.

The claim and counter claim will be fought out in the court of public opinion and it will be an ugly contest.

Porter is not just any minister: his role as attorney-general sets him apart. He is the country’s first law officer – which means he must be above any suspicion. It’s the old “Caesar’s wife” test and – properly – the bar is high.

However unfair it might be, Porter will now never be above suspicion, at least in the minds of many.

Before he was a politician, Porter was a crown prosecutor. He has been around court rooms, and so used to tense situations.

Of course his news conference was not a court room and things are different when you are defending yourself, but it was notable how rattled he was.

Read more: Has Christian Porter been subjected to a 'trial by media'? No, the media did its job of being a watchdog[1]

He wanted to avoid the details of that January 1988 time when the four teenagers were in Sydney as part of a debating team (which raises the idle question, where are the other two team members now and what do they think?). When pushed by journalists, some of his answers were fumbling.

What state he will be in after a period of leave remains to be seen, because it is likely the pressure on him will increase rather than ease.

Then there’s the question of the impact on the whole government. It is extraordinary what a toll the Brittany Higgins’ affair and the allegation against Porter are taking. It amounts to an enormous distraction for Morrison.

Scott Morrison The Morrison government is reeling after the Brittany Higgins’ affair and the allegation against Porter. Mick Tsikas/AAP

All this at a time when the government is struggling with the early days of the vaccine rollout.

And of course, the positive news has been put in the shade – Wednesday’s economic growth of 3.1% for the December quarter, which is a seriously good performance by any international standards.

Morrison is loyal to his ministers – or at least he understands that to put political blood in the water by cutting a minister loose is never without consequences.

When it is the attorney-general, that would be a huge step.

But asked this week whether he believed Porter’s denial, Morrison would not commit himself. “That is a matter for the police,” he said.

Significantly, Morrison didn’t send the woman’s statement to Porter after he received it in the letter from her friends on Friday. Porter said he still hasn’t seen it.

Porter’s spokesman said on Wednesday night that to have received the statement or documents when he was the subject of them, and they were matters for law enforcement agencies, would have been “inappropriate”. This seems a stretch.

Porter says he has Morrison’s support. The question is whether he will retain it in the days to come.

There is this hiatus, while Porter is on stress leave, during which Morrison can assess the situation.

He must decide whether he will remain dug in behind his embattled minister or encourage him to conclude that, despite what he said in his statement, his position is untenable.

Read more: Senator Hanson-Young's defamation win reminds us how the law can silence sexual slurs and raise survivors' voices[2]

Read more https://theconversation.com/view-from-the-hill-despite-his-denial-christian-porter-will-struggle-with-the-caesars-wife-test-156412

The Conversation

News Bulletin

We studied 50 years of royal commissions — here's how they make a difference

Joel Carrett/AAPOn Monday, Scott Morrison announced a royal commission into veteran suicides — the fourth royal commission set up under his prim...

Michael Mintrom, Professor, Monash University - avatar Michael Mintrom, Professor, Monash University

Hydrogen and carbon capture receive extra funding, as Morrison prepares for Biden summit

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced next month’s budget will include a further $539.2 million government investment in new clean hydroge...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Media need to reframe their representation of Aboriginal deaths in custody

Cultural warning: This article contains names and images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This article also contains link...

Amanda Porter, Senior Fellow (Indigenous Programs), The University of Melbourne - avatar Amanda Porter, Senior Fellow (Indigenous Programs), The University of Melbourne

Forget JobKeeper — what the government and the country need now is a JabMaker plan

originalForget last week’s healthy 5.6% unemployment rate. It might be “comfortably below” the Coalition’s 6% threshold for co...

Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University - avatar Mark Kenny, Professor, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

Net zero won't be achieved in inner city wine bars: Morrison

As Scott Morrison gradually pivots his climate policy towards embracing a target of net zero emissions by 2050, he is seeking to distinguish the g...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Dutton humiliates defence force chief Angus Campbell over citation

Peter Dutton has begun his tenure as defence minister by delivering a very public slap to his most senior military adviser, chief of the Australia...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

9 Australians fighting for gender equality and making a difference

Stephen Saphore/AAPIt feels like every day brings more harrowing claims of harassment, bullying and abuse of women in our community.In the space of ju...

Blair Williams, Research Fellow, Global Institute for Women's Leadership (GIWL), Australian National University - avatar Blair Williams, Research Fellow, Global Institute for Women's Leadership (GIWL), Australian National University

Without evidence of real progress, NZ’s foreign policy towards China looks increasingly empty

www.shutterstock.comVery recently in the Bay of Bengal a naval exercise took place involving India, France, Japan and Australia. While it received lit...

Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato - avatar Alexander Gillespie, Professor of Law, University of Waikato

Writers Wanted



News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion