Voices describing the government’s position as untenable are mounting
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull today threw several bombs into the conversation surrounding the historical rape allegation against a current cabinet minister, saying that “everybody knows” who the accused is, as NSW police declared there was “insufficient admissible evidence” to proceed with the investigation, and a photo emerged of the minister in question alongside the alleged victim on the night of the alleged rape in 1988. NSW police have now declared the matter – which the prime minister insists is for the police – closed, while the South Australian coroner has confirmed there is an ongoing investigation into the woman’s death but that it is not yet considering whether to hold an inquest.
Speaking to Fran Kelly on ABC Radio National this morning, Turnbull said that it was “fine to say” the minister deserved natural justice, but that he owed it to his colleagues and the nation to “step forward” and provide a comprehensive statement about the allegations, including when and how he knew the woman, and what and when he knew about the complaint. “If he’s vigorously denied them to the prime minister, he should vigorously deny them to the public,” Turnbull added. Question Time won’t be back until March 15, but Turnbull can already see problems ahead, suggesting it will be dominated by the Opposition asking every male minister whether they are the person named in the complaint. It may not have to come to that, with Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young (potentially not the only female MP) contemplating naming the minister under parliamentary privilege.
Turnbull, who had been contacted by the woman in 2019 and who earlier this week called for a coronial inquest into her death, also raised disturbing questions over her suicide, prompting conspiracies and anger online. Turnbull, not one to use words carelessly, said “we don’t know for sure that she took her own life”, and questioned what might have led her to kill herself when she did, “if she did”. “Why did she pursue this complaint for so long and then, just at a moment when you think she’d be encouraged, take her own life?” he asked, referring to the fact the 49-year-old died the same week that former High Court judge Dyson Heydon’s misconduct was exposed. “You think those would be circumstances in which she would be encouraged in the prospect of her complaint being taken seriously,” adding that the timing seemed “counterintuitive”. Turnbull seemed determined to infer that the woman might have been contacted by her alleged rapist, repeating the suggestion to 7.30, with many suspecting that he knows more than he is letting on, or is trying to “steer the questioning”. Others, including sexual assault survivor Dhanya Mani, said it was not useful or helpful to speculate on the woman’s death.
Whatever he is implying, and whether or not the woman was contacted by her alleged rapist in the days or months leading up to her suicide, Turnbull’s speculation feels narrow-minded. The former prime minister seems unable to grasp why the woman might have killed herself, or to truly understand her alleged trauma, despite having heard from her directly. Friends have continued to come forward with heartbreaking accounts of the “academically gifted”, “charismatic”, “extraordinary” young woman they knew in 1988, and the devastating turn her life took after the alleged incident. Wine writer for The Australian Nick Ryan – a long-time friend of the woman who she told of the rape in October 2019 – wrote that as a teen she far outshone her talented peers, while many say she never lived up to that potential. Other friends told Guardian Australia that June 2019 seemed to be a “tipping point” for the woman, who started confiding in a number of them around that time, appearing to be “obsessed” by the event and “processing a trauma”, potentially in response to the George Pell case. The fact that, as Ryan put it, “her demons won out in the end”, in a week of harrowing Heydon news, is a tragic but not at all implausible end to such a story.
Turnbull added that the accused minister staying anonymous was “just not tenable”, joining the chorus of voices labelling Morrison’s stance and the minister’s ongoing role “untenable” – seemingly the word of the moment. The woman’s lawyer, Michael Bradley, yesterday said it was “untenable” for the accused minister not to stand aside; Guardian Australia’s Katharine Murphy and Nine’s Peter Hartcher both said it was “untenable” for Morrison to manage his way out of this by evasion; while Liberal MPs have reportedly told the ABC’s Andrew Probyn they believe it is untenable for the minister to continue in his role, joined by countless others.
But what does it even mean, in a country that has lived under a scandal-filled government for almost a decade, for one’s position to be untenable? To declare that this stance cannot be maintained has begun to feel like a meaningless way of declaring that the government must take accountability when it simply won’t, and you’ve run out of ways to make them. And so what? Somanyleaders have hung on to positions, both professional and stated, that have been declared “untenable”.
Morrison’s position, that he can’t act because this is a “matter for the police”, is even less acceptable now that NSW police have confirmed that this is not, indeed, one for them. But is it untenable, unable to be maintained? The following few days will hopefully tell, but with new gruesome details emerging by the minute about the alleged assault, it really is hard to imagine the minister whose name “everybody knows” can wait this one out.
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Outspoken Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon describes the Labor attitude of “institutional elitism” that keeps the party losing elections, joining former PM Tony Abbott and former deputy PM John Anderson in speaking at an event today marking 25 years since John Howard’s first election win.
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Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull today threw several bombs into the conversation surrounding the historical rape allegation against a current cabinet minister, saying that “everybody knows” who the accused is, as NSW police declared there was “insufficient admissible evidence” to proceed with the investigation, and a photo emerged of the minister in question alongside the alleged victim on the night of the alleged rape in 1988. NSW...
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