United Kingdom

Mystery dossier of evidence accuses cabinet minister of rape

Scott Morrison holds the Royal Commission Report into Aged Care on Monday

When Scott Morrison stood before Australia to announce his $452million response to the Royal Commission into aged care, he knew he would be grilled on an entirely different issue.

In the hot sun outside Kirribilli House, the prime minister was ruthlessly quizzed about a historic rape allegation against a cabinet minister.   

Under intense pressure, he wiped his brow as he insisted the issue was for police and said he would not be taking any action against the minister. 

It was that snippet - rather than the government's extra funding for aged care homes - that made headlines on websites and TV stations across the nation on Monday afternoon.

The allegation became public last week after the Prime Minister received a letter from a mystery sender on Wednesday evening which included a statement the alleged victim had prepared for her lawyers in 2019.

The woman claimed she was raped by a cabinet minister at an event in Sydney in 1988, when she was 16 years old.

'This is my story, plain and simple. It's not pretty, but it is mine,' she wrote in the statement, seen by the ABC's Four Corners.

'And I stand by it, every single word and image in this document is true.'

The woman reported her allegation to New South Wales Police in February 2020. 

Officers were due to travel to her home in Adelaide the following month to take her statement but their trip was postponed due to Covid-19.

In June the woman withdrew her allegation and died by suicide the next day, causing the investigation to be suspended. 

According to Four Corners which first reported the allegation on Friday, the woman had bipolar disorder and had attended a psychiatric hospital in Melbourne in the months before her death aged 49.

Friends say she was 'beautiful and clever' but 'consumed with trauma'. 

Mr Morrison said he did not read the letter but forwarded it to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw (pictured)

The anonymous sender said they were inspired to write the letter (pictured) after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation she was raped by another staffer

As well as leaving her prepared statement, the woman made a 45-minute recording in which she talked about her allegations, according to the Herald Sun.

In a letter to a friend she wrote: 'I guess I just worry that a trial has the ­potential to be an emotional bloodbath, particularly for me and anyone who appears as a witness in the case.' 

The woman had told several family and friends about her allegation. It was presumably one of them who sent the letter to Mr Morrison, Liberal MP Celia Hammond and two South Australian senators, demanding an investigation.  

The rape allegation: A timeline 

1988: Rape allegedly happens at event in Sydney when woman is 16

Late 2019: Woman engages lawyers and prepares a statement

February 2020: Woman reports allegations to NSW Police

March 2020: Police postpone trip to visit her due to Covid-19 

June 2020: Woman dies by suicide

February 24, 2021: Anonymous letter is sent to PM detailing allegations

March 1, 2021: PM says minister completely rejects the allegations

The anonymous sender said they were inspired to write the letter after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation she was raped by another staffer in Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' parliament office in 2019.

Ms Higgins' allegations dominated the past two sitting weeks of parliament as ministers were repeatedly grilled over who knew about her claims and when. 

The sender demanded an inquiry into the 1988 allegation, writing: 'There will be considerable damage to community perceptions of justice... and the parliament when this story becomes public if it is simultaneously revealed that senior people (like yourselves) were aware of the accusation but had done nothing.'  

The identity of the cabinet minister is known among the media and politicians but cannot be disclosed for legal reasons.  

The ministerial code of conduct requires a minister to stand aside if charged with a crime - but he won't face court because under NSW law a rape charge can only be laid if there is a living complainant. 

Mr Morrison said he spoke to the minister on Wednesday evening and he 'vigorously rejected the allegations.'

He said he did not read the letter but had been briefed on the contents of the allegations.

Asked if he would set up an inquiry, he said: 'I'm not the police force. I have given it to the police to investigate.'

Mr Morrison said AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw had not advised him to take any action. 

He refused to sack the minister, saying: 'We can't have a situation where the mere making of an allegation and that being publicised through the media is grounds for, you know, governments to stand people down simply on the basis of that. I mean, we have a rule of law in this country.' 

Mr Morrison said the first he substantially heard of the allegation was last week. Before that he had only heard rumours of a journalist making inquiries, he said.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Labor Senator Penny Wong received the unsigned letter and both released statements saying they had contacted the AFP. 

Senator Hanson-Young said the information she had received regarded a 'disturbing and a very serious allegation of a criminal nature against a senior member of the government'.

Senator Wong said it was her understanding the complainant reported the assault to NSW Police and South Australia Police.

The Australian Federal Police on Saturday issued a statement saying it would liaise with the relevant state authorities.

'Further enquiries can be directed to the New South Wales Police Force,' it said.

'The AFP will not be making further comment.'

NSW Police said in a statement on Friday night that a report of alleged historic sexual violence was received in February 2020 and detectives commenced an investigation under Strike Force Wyndarra.

'After strike force investigators were advised that the body of a 49-year-old woman was located at a home at Adelaide by South Australia Police (SAPOL) on Wednesday 24 June 2020, the investigation was suspended,' the statement said.

Ms Higgins (pictured) alleged she was raped in Parliament House after a boozy night out 

'NSW Police understand that reporting sexual assault can be distressing and traumatic for victims and it is always the choice of an individual whether to proceed with an investigation or not.' 

The alleged victim's lawyers - whom she engaged in 2019 before withdrawing her complaint the day before she died - say the minister should stand down.

Michael Bradley of Marque Lawyers told the Sydney Morning Herald: 'It's untenable for him not to, I would think. It's not really a legal question, it's a question of propriety.

'It goes to his ability to do his job. It's necessary that his integrity is not under serious question.

'And it's about the integrity of the entire government – whether it can carry on with a cloud this huge hanging over it.'

Greens leader Adam Bandt also called for the minister to stand down and demanded an inquiry.

'If the Prime Minister doesn't at least stand this man aside while he conducts his own inquiry, then he's sending the terrible message there is space in his cabinet for someone with an unresolved rape accusation,' he said.  

The Prime Minister got a letter from a mystery sender on Wednesday evening which included a statement the alleged victim had prepared for her lawyers in 2019. Pictured: Parliament House

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