The Politics    Thursday, March 4, 2021

If he did it

By Rachel Withers

Image of Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Image via ABC News

‘Just imagine for a second…’

“Just imagine for a second that it’s not true,” said Attorney-General Christian Porter in yesterday’s anguished press conference, in which he came forward to reveal he was the cabinet minister accused of a 1988 rape, and to deny it. “That for whatever reason the recollection and the belief, which I’m sure was strongly held, is just not true. Just imagine that for a second.” This line was one of the most effective Porter used (leaving aside the awkwardness of the counterfactual implication of “imagine”), planting a little seed of doubt for those inclined towards believing in his guilt. I am among those, and I briefly did as he asked. I held in my mind the idea that Christian Porter did not rape the woman who said repeatedly that he did, and what it would mean if a man lost his job and reputation over a false allegation. 

But just imagine for a second that it is true. Just imagine that for a second. The flip side of Porter’s statement applies also to the people who believe him wholeheartedly, because this is what so many in the Coalition and the media seem unwilling to do. Imagine if a teenage Porter once forced a drunk 16-year-old into oral sex, kicked and choked her, and then anally raped her when she passed out, leaving her bleeding and ashamed. What would it mean if such a man was allowed to remain attorney-general of this country, without so much as an inquiry?

This is what the debate, in many ways, comes down to: which of those two ifs is worse? Many seem to have made up their mind one way or the other about Porter’s guilt – based on his statement and what little we have of hers, his past behaviour, what we know of her tragic life, and gut instinct. Ultimately – as with many rapes, even when the accuser is still alive – we’re never going to know for sure. But there’s an unwillingness from Porter’s colleagues and supporters to imagine. 

The prime minister today rejected the many calls for an independent inquiry into the rape allegation, citing the rule of law and the presumption of innocence, and the party faithful have fallen into line (along with journalists who are old friends of Porter). Of course, the presumption of innocence is extremely important. But those arguing for an inquiry (including, now, the woman’s family) are not arguing Porter should be put in prison for this. They want more facts to be established to get more clarity on what happened. 

It’s clear some of those rejecting the need for an inquiry haven’t bothered to imagine it (or maybe they have, and are afraid of what it might reveal). Perhaps even Porter hasn’t imagined it – perhaps he has forgotten the night (it was 33 years ago, as he said), or has convinced himself it didn’t happen. After all, research shared by freelance journalist Jane Gilmore shows that rapists frequently do not believe they committed rape, and find all sorts of ways to escape reality. (Perhaps we could say of Porter, as he said of his accuser, “that for whatever reason the recollection and the belief, which I’m sure was strongly held, is just not true”.)

It would not, despite his claims, be the end of the rule of law in Australia if he stepped down over these allegations, while maintaining his innocence. It would simply be the end of his stint in the ministry. He’d go to the backbench. Is that so hard to imagine?

I can also very easily imagine that some of the “allegations that have been printed” did occur. I struggle to see why she would have lied (victims don’t tend to lie about rape); why the friends she told would have gone to this trouble and pain if they didn’t find her to be “very credible”, as they have said; why a woman who was, by all accounts, astoundingly brilliant would fall apart for no reason, though that could happen. “We did what normal teenagers would do,” Porter said of their time together. You only have to take a look at what normal teenagers do today to find the allegations credible.

Two weeks ago, Morrison’s wife asked him to imagine that Brittany Higgins was one of his own daughters. He did, and was left “shattered” at the thought. That burst of empathy must have worn his imagination out for the month, because he now can’t seem to envisage that his attorney-general could be capable of rape – not enough to even look into it, at least. But perhaps if he could imagine it, just for a second…

“She’s gone this morning – she needs to resign immediately.”

Senator Jacqui Lambie has called for Defence Minister Linda Reynolds to resign over reports she called former staffer Brittany Higgins a “lying cow”.

“I’m sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret. And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you perceive something you might have said.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for compassion for Linda Reynolds over her “lying cow” comment, on the basis she was having a “stressful week”.

Christian Porter names himself (plus, Australia’s university crisis)
Attorney-General Christian Porter has identified himself as the cabinet minister accused of a sexual assault that allegedly took place in 1988. He strongly denied the allegations and refused to resign or step aside.

The amount of taxpayer dollars spent by Tourism Australia over the past six months, encouraging Australians to see Australia.


“Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has played down the prospect of a Medicare-style levy being imposed on taxpayers to help cover the cost of a better aged-care system. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety suggested increasing the Medicare levy or imposing a separate one could provide some of the funding boost sorely needed in the sector.”

The treasurer minimises the prospect of an aged-care levy, noting that the Coalition cuts taxes, not raises them. Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared to be open to the levy on Monday.

The list

“Omar bin Osama bin Mohammed bin ’Awad bin Laden, the fourth eldest son of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, plays a YouTube video titled ‘The Last Cowboy Song’. He mixes paint on a wooden palette and puffs on an antique German hunter tobacco pipe. On his canvas, it’s midnight in the American south and the silhouette of five cowboys, in wide brim hats, is illuminated by a campfire. ‘It means freedom,’ explains Omar. Over the past year, the reclusive 40 year old has begun to envisage life as an artist, learning to paint in his home by the beaches of Normandy, France.”

“Josh Fox frames his film, The Truth Has Changed (2021), with a question posed to him by a teenage girl at a community screening of his influential 2010 documentary Gasland: ‘How do we know what’s true?’ The film explores this question, and the contemporary contexts of proliferating misinformation that make it fiendishly difficult to answer. Since the release of Gasland, Fox has realised that, as fast as activists can uncover and collate the scientific evidence of the devastation caused by fracking, the petroleum industry will swamp the internet with counter-information, attempting to undermine the credibility of the science and debunk the claims of activists.”

“Beck, who will be appearing via video-link at the Sydney Opera House next month as part of the ninth All About Women festival, knows a thing or two about the pervasiveness of white feminism. She’s held senior roles at Marie Claire and Vogue, and from 2017 to 2018 was editor-in-chief of Jezebel, one of the defining online feminist publications of the 2010s. Her tenure at Jezebel was especially timely – she started there just weeks after #MeToo started trending, invigorating a new wave of mainstream feminist discourse.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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