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article imageAustralian attorney general denies rape allegation

By AFP     Mar 3, 2021 in World

Australia's attorney general outed himself as the unnamed cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl, denying the decades-old allegation Wednesday and seeking to draw a line under a crisis consuming the country's conservative government.

After a speculation-filled week that has roiled Australian politics, 50-year-old Christian Porter -- the government's top lawyer and a former state prosecutor -- tearfully denied wrongdoing, saying "what is being alleged did not happen".

He stands accused of raping a fellow student in 1988 while they attended a debating competition at the University of Sydney.

Porter insisted he would not step down, but would take a few "short weeks" off to deal with the mental strain caused by the allegations, while reportedly hiring a top defamation lawyer.

"I've discussed with the prime minister today that after speaking with my own doctor I'm going to take a short period of leave to assess and hopefully improve my own mental health," he said.

Porter was forced to come forward after senior lawmakers received a dossier setting out the claims of the alleged victim, who died last year without making a formal complaint to police.

Her death -- reported to be suicide -- is the subject of an ongoing coroner's investigation.

Although Porter's identity as the accused was widely known, Australia's defamation rules had prevented media from naming him publicly.

The Western Australia representative insisted he was the victim of a "whispering campaign" and "frenzied politicisation" driven by the media.

"I have been subject to the most wild, intense and unrestrained series of accusations I can remember, in modern Australian politics," he said.

"For the many caring family and friends who have asked me that question over the course of the last week, 'Are you OK?' I have got to say... I really don't know," he said, breaking down.

Porter appeared in front of the cameras a day after police said they found "insufficient admissible evidence to proceed" with a prosecution in the case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had insisted the allegations were a matter for the police, but there are now mounting calls for an independent investigation.

- Scandal and crisis -

Morrison's government has been rocked by a series of sexual assault scandals in recent months, including harrowing allegations that a young staffer was raped by a colleague in the parliamentary office of the now-minister of defence Linda Reynolds.

Brittany Higgins, 26, said she was treated like a "political problem" when she reported the 2019 incident, which occurred just a month before national elections.

Reynolds also took medical leave after the allegations.

Morrison had initially defended his government's handling of that crisis, but apologised amid growing public outrage.

Australia's parliament has been repeatedly criticised for a "toxic" workplace culture that has spawned persistent bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct against women.

The ruling coalition has also been accused of having a "woman problem", with a spate of high-profile female politicians quitting parliament ahead of the 2019 election and several citing bullying as a factor.

Last week Nicolle Flint, a prominent Liberal member of parliament who publicly complained about sexist abuse, said she would step down at the next election.

Morrison has announced two female government officials will lead reviews into the sexual assault complaints process and workplace culture in the parliament.

But critics believe work needs to be carried out at arm's length from the government.

Women lawmakers from minor parties have written to Morrison demanding an "urgent external review" of current policies and the establishment of an independent body to oversee future workplace complaints.

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