The Politics    Friday, March 5, 2021

His and hers

By Rachel Withers

Image of Attorney-General Christian Porter addressing media. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Image

Attorney-General Christian Porter addresses the media. Image © Richard Wainwright / AAP Image

The accuser and the accused face vastly different treatment

There is tragically only one living figure at the centre of this week’s disturbing 1988 rape allegation, but there were once two. Attorney-General Christian Porter and his unnamed accuser have vastly conflicting stories and very different life outcomes, though sadly that’s not where the dissimilarity ends: stark contrasts have been drawn in the way the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator have been treated. Take a look at the way his word, his mental health and his need for “justice” have been considered this week, and then take a look at hers. The government has repeatedly pushed the concept of fairness, and yet things couldn’t be less fair.

Take his word and hers, and how they have been considered. Both have made claims: the woman that she was raped by him twice in January 1988, and Porter that they never even slept together. These conflicting accounts are complicated by the fact that she is no longer alive to answer to his denials. But the way their words have been heard are also different. His spoken words were publicly broadcast, and have been reported at length. Her words, which exist in the form of a trove of documents – including an unsigned statement and diary entries from the time, as well as an unpublished recording – are not being heard at the same volume. They are in the hands of journalists, who have been, quite reasonably, reticent to publish the full details of the allegedly violent rape (with the exception of Crikey). But even those who have full access to both accounts have treated them differently. The prime minister, for one, has opted not to read her words, while taking Porter at his.  

Then there’s his mental health, and hers, and the way they are being discussed. As journalist Samantha Maiden noted on Q&A last night, there is a huge disparity in how their mental states are being portrayed in the debate, with him applauded and her doubted. In his Wednesday press conference, Porter acknowledged that he might not be okay, and would be taking a few weeks off to seek help. The “shattered man” received sympathy by some in the media for talking about it, with his pain portrayed as making his denials more credible. The deceased accuser, meanwhile, has had her quite severe mental health battles used to doubt her account – by the very same people referring to Porter as “shattered” – with suggestions that her “complex history” made her unreliable. Never mind that friends say she was credible and consistent, while the friend who drove her to the airport after her Sydney police report characterised her as “lucid, calm, rational, attentive, forensic”.

Speaking of friends, many of the woman’s confidantes have spoken out this week as “friends”, while his supporters – ministers and high-profile journalists – speak from positions of power. The woman’s friends – more and more of whom are calling for an inquiry – speak through the media, but they don’t represent themselves as journalists when they do so. But his friends do. High-profile journalists like Peter van Onselen, Andrew Probyn and Paul Kelly have declared the case closed, but rarely have they acknowledged their long-running association with the accused man unless pushed. While his friends have just as much right to speak as hers do, Porter’s supporters continue to do so under the guise of “journalism”, whether on prime-time television or in print. 

It should probably be noted that, of their mutual friends, all the former members of their debating team reportedly believe the woman over him.

What about justice? There has been much talk of the need to ensure it, although the focus seems to be much more on justice for the accused than for the accuser. The government and conservative media insist that Porter must be allowed to move on, citing the rule of law and the presumption of innocence (it’s hard to presume anything other than innocence when you refuse to look into a case at all). But, as Labor MP Anne Aly said on Q&A last night, “What about justice for the victim?” With the police investigation closed, the deceased woman will never get justice in the legal sense, and her friends say they are not “out to destroy anyone” – they just want an inquiry. But the government refuses to put any consideration towards the concept of justice for a life that may or may not have been destroyed by one of their own.

Therein lies the rub. Whatever the truth at the heart of this tragic story, there has been such vastly different significance placed on the consequences for him and for her. Both Porter and the deceased woman were considered brilliant students with exciting career prospects; hers were never fulfilled, while he occupies the highest legal office in the land. For the 16-year-old girl, for the late 49-year-old woman, the consequences of this story – of her “strongly held” belief, as Porter put it – have been catastrophic, resulting in the loss of her life. But the thought of even questioning him over it, of depriving him of his position, even temporarily, is apparently unthinkable. 

“Today, we ask Prime Minister Morrison to show some compassion. Let them come home to Bilo.”

At a 5am vigil marking the Biloela family’s three years in detention, friend and #HometoBilo campaigner Angela Fredericks said it is up to the prime minister to “make the captain’s call”.

“More than one Coalition MP has noted that many who watched the press conference on Wednesday were most angry about the rudeness of some of the journalists.”


The government reportedly believes that the “quiet Australians” are more angry about journalists asking questions than allegations of a violent rape committed by the chief law officer of the nation.

Inside the Christian Porter strategy
The attorney-general has so far refused to resign, denying the rape allegation levelled against him. He’s been supported by senior ministers and the prime minister. Today, Paul Bongiorno on how Scott Morrison fought alongside Christian Porter to keep him in his job, and what happens next.

The number of workers who could lose their jobs when JobKeeper is withdrawn at the end of this month.

“The agricultural workforce strategy, commissioned by the federal government in 2019 and released today, makes 37 recommendations to solve ongoing labour shortages in the industry.”

A new report recommends the federal government provide visas to undocumented agrifood workers in a one-off program, while there is also a renewed push for the estimated 100,000 undocumented workers in Australia to be granted amnesty or “status resolution”, amid concerns the group may not come forward for the COVID-19 vaccine.

The list

“Our prime minister is a man who was undistinguished in his career before being parachuted into parliament in 2007. Marketing and personal networking were his game, punctuated by opaque but ignominious departures, and he never transcended his old work in his new. Instead, he refined it – and it’s a depressing irony that his gifts with branding have been more effectively applied in politics than tourism. Despite his avowed familiarity with the Good Book, he’s no more equipped to speak on moral issues of national significance than any random and grasping PR hack. We should now mark the fact that matters of honour, crime, trauma, transparency and responsibility have been deadened under the weight of his political impulses, the essence of which is a kind of shameless rat cunning.”

“A band suggests, at heart, that there are things we can do about loneliness, and damn it’s been a lonely decade, politically, artistically, existentially. A decade ruled by solo artists and political egomaniacs (sometimes the two types seem interchangeable, insofar as mainstream politics is all about performance), and the interpersonal competition of social media, and the dread a lot of us wake up to each day, that everything is completely fucked and how will we find each other in the midst of it, before it’s too late. That’s why I miss bands – because they can feel like a form of mutual aid in action.”

“Too often when an accusation of sexual assault is levelled, the first concern is for the public scandal, for the fallout, for the chance it will prompt a flood of other disclosures and for the impact on the life of the accused. Where is the concern for the person whose body has been invaded and abused? Where is the concern for the person who has to live with the trauma of what was done to them? There is precious little, in Canberra and in our culture at large.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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