The rule of survival
The PM continues to insist upon the “rule of law”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet again dismissed calls for an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, insisting he is “standing firm” on the “rule of law”, as former prime ministers (and political odd couple) Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull joined Labor, the Greens, the crossbench, legal experts and friends of the accuser in calling for one. Four Corners last night revealed that the accuser told a counsellor eight years ago of the alleged rape by “Christian” (putting to an end dubious arguments over “recovered memories”), documenting how her life tragically unravelled following the alleged incident. Meanwhile 7.30 featured three young women who have come forward with allegations of inappropriate behaviour by now-independent MP Craig Kelly’s aide Frank Zumbo, describing an office of teenage girls preyed upon by their boss.
At a Sydney press conference this morning, Morrison revealed that he was unsure when the attorney-general would return from leave, and yet again turned to the “rule of law”, saying he wouldn’t entertain “extrajudicial processes”. He insisted – as he has since before NSW Police declared it could not investigate – that the police and courts were the only agencies authorised to deal with such claims. “There are not two rules,” he said, repeatedly. “There are not two laws in this country. There are not two processes. There is one. And we’re all subject to it. The attorney-general has certainly been subject to that.” (The attorney-general has not, in fact, been subject to a police investigation because the accuser is deceased.) “I’m not going to indulge in other extrajudicial processes that suggest that one Australian is subject to a different legal process to any other Australian,” Morrison went on. “If we do that, we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law.”
Morrison yet again refused to be drawn on whether he believed Porter, saying carefully: “I believe in his presumption of innocence. And why wouldn’t anyone on the basis of the proper process which has been followed?” Why indeed.
Upholding the “rule of law” has become the government’s main line of defence on the Porter allegations, but as many have pointed out, inquiries like the one being called for happen in workplace settings all the time without contravening the “rule of law”. The attorney-general himself suggested that his resignation might represent the end of the rule of law in Australia, but could it be that not investigating these allegations is the true attack on those ideals? As legal experts Fleur Johns and Martin Krygier write for The Monthly, this “three-word conversation stopper” is a phrase often used to mean what the user wants it to mean, but it’s true ideal is that power cannot be exercised arbitrarily. “What would be arbitrary would be for a person invested with great power over others, by virtue of the office that they hold, to be able to pick and choose among these investigatory processes, and insulate themselves from some, solely on the basis of the vehemence of their denial,” they write. Shielding the AG from questioning, they argue, is an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the federal government – “exactly the kind of arbitrary exercise of power that the rule of law seeks to counter”.
Morrison is apparently hoping that parroting the phrase “rule of law” will put a stop to the conversation and the entire issue, but it’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon. Former PM Kevin Rudd today threw his weight behind an independent judicial inquiry – “short in duration, quite focused in its terms for reference” – telling the National Press Club it was the “appropriate course of action under these circumstances”. His sometimes brain-twin Malcolm Turnbull also told ABC News Breakfast that he would have thought an independent inquiry would be in Porter’s best interest in resolving the matter. “If I was in Porter’s position,” said the man who once disciplined Porter over his behaviour towards women, “I would have defended [myself] and then said, ‘I’m open to an inquiry’.” Former foreign minister Julie Bishop last night backed calls for a “logical” inquest into the woman’s death, expressing surprise that neither Morrison or Porter had read the letter containing details of the allegation.
Whether or not there is an inquiry, and whether or not Christian Porter ever returns to his position, the larger outcry will not be going away. Something appears to have shifted, but Australia’s “daggy dad” still fails to grasp just how angry women are – even as they plan to march on the parliament when it returns next Monday. As the ABC’s Laura Tingle notes, the way Parliament House is designed means that demonstrations can be “studiously ignored by politicians who can remain splendidly oblivious to protests outside”. But Morrison will ignore this one at his peril.
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“What would be arbitrary would be for a person invested with great power over others, by virtue of the office that they hold, to be able to pick and choose among these investigatory processes, and insulate themselves from some, solely on the basis of the vehemence of their denial. To shield the attorney-general from questioning concerning an alleged abuse of power of the most serious kind on his part, merely because one avenue (the criminal justice system) is practically inoperative for tragic reasons beyond anyone’s control: that would constitute an arbitrary exercise of power on the part of the federal government – exactly the kind of arbitrary exercise of power that the rule of law ideal seeks to counter.”
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has yet again dismissed calls for an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, insisting he is “standing firm” on the “rule of law”, as former prime ministers (and political odd couple) Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull joined Labor, the Greens, the crossbench, legal experts and friends of the accuser in calling for one. Four Corners last night revealed that the accuser told a counsellor eight years ago of the alleged rape by “Christian” (putting to an end dubious arguments over “recovered memories”), documenting how her life...
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