A prominent columnist has called for Bill Shorten to be kicked out of parliament over historical claims of sexual assault.
Commentator Jessica Irvine got into a heated debate with Senator Matt Canavan on the Today Show on Wednesday, arguing no minister who has been accused of sexual misconduct should be allowed to keep their job.
Mr Shorten has previously denied rape allegations dating back to the 1980s after Victoria Police closed an investigation into him in 2014.
‘I will not go into details, except to say the allegation was untrue and abhorrent,’ he said at the time.
The woman made the allegations in 2013, claiming Mr Shorten had raped her at a Young Labor camp near Geelong in 1986.
When asked by Senator Canavan if Mr Shorten should remain in his job, Ms Irvin responded: ‘no… I would say no’.
‘We need to change the standard of behaviour [of politicians],’ she said. ‘We do not want people who have been accused of such things [being allowed to stay in parliament].’
Commentator Jessica Irvine slammed the former Labor leader in an extraordinary outburst on the Today Show on Wednesday morning
When asked by Senator Matt Canavan if Mr Shorten should remain in his job, Ms Irvin responded: ‘no, I would say no’
Senator Canavan responded: ‘Well that means basically get rid of everybody’.
‘Is everybody an accused rapist in parliament?’ Ms Irvine shot back.
The discussion comes just hours before a senior federal cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl three decades will publicly declare his innocence.
The woman last year told police he raped her in a bathtub in Sydney’s Kings Cross after a night of drinking and dancing in January 1988, but took her own life months later.
‘This makes me really angry that we are going to give a national platform to a man who’s been accused of rape,’ Ms Irvine said.
‘As an Australian woman, I find it sickening that this woman can’t speak for herself, she’s taken her life.
‘And today we’re going to hear from a man in an incredible position of power who’s going to be able to plead his case and illicit sympathy for his situation.
‘We need to guard against members of parliament conducting themselves in ways that are inappropriate.’
Senator Canavan accused Ms Irvine of assuming the minister, whose identity will be revealed today, is guilty.
‘You seem to be assuming he’s guilty and that’s a reverse of our normal standard of innocent until proven guilty,’ the senator said.
Host Karl Stefanovic mirrored Senator Canavan’s sentiments, saying the minister in question could be innocent.
Bill Shorten has previously denial rape allegations dating back to the 1980s after Victoria Police closed an investigation into him in 2014
The senior federal cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl three decades ago will today publicly declare his innocence
‘It’s a cornerstone of our law that you have the presumption of innocence,’ he said.
Ms Irvine argued that no MP on either side of politics is that ‘good enough at their jobs that they’re irreplaceable’.
‘I want the prime minister to take a stronger stance on this,’ she said.
Scott Morrison has been under pressure to out the minister, stand him down, and launch an inquiry since detailed allegations were sent to his office.
He said the politician told him the allegation was not true, but the minister has now agreed to make a statement on Wednesday.
Police on Tuesday closed the investigation as it had insufficient admissible evidence to proceed after the woman’s suicide last June.
The minister was hoping to keep the matter a private one for police to deal with but rumours have circled in Canberra and on social media over the past week.
He is expected to unequivocally deny the allegations and refuse to stand aside or quit parliament, and Mr Morrison and the government to stand behind him.
Such a self-outing would be similar to former Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten’s denial of sexual assault allegations in August 2014 after Victoria Police closed a historical investigation into him.
‘I will not go into details, except to say the allegation was untrue and abhorrent,’ he said at the time.
The statement was intended to draw a line under the matter and Wednesday’s is expected to attempt to do the same.
An anonymous sender said they were inspired to write a letter (pictured) detailing the woman’s allegations after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with an allegation
A woman who accused a minister of raping her in 1988 claimed the assault happened in a bathtub after a night of drinking in Sydney’s Kings Cross (pictured in a 1980s file image)
Mr Morrison said he did not read the letter but forwarded it to Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw (pictured)
Further pressure to come forward was made by former PM Malcolm Turnbull who insisted on TV that he go public because ‘everyone knows’ who he is.
The minister is said to have taken advice on defamation after Mr Turnbull’s comments along with thousands of others on social media and blogs.
Crossbench MPs also piled on, some demanding an independent inquiry that Mr Morrison has so far resisted.
There were even fears an MP could use parliamentary privilege to out him with impunity when both houses sit again on March 15.
Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie claimed he should ‘suck it up’ and make a statement because ‘every man and his dog knows, so he’s only digging his hole deeper’.
‘If he has nothing to hide then come out and face the music,’ she said.
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who along with Senator Penny Wong and Mr Morrison was last week sent a letter from a friend of the woman that outlined her allegations in detail, agreed.
‘The accused minister knows who he is, the entire parliament knows who he is,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘If he is innocent he should step forward and declare it. The integrity of his ministry and the entire government is now in question while he remains in hiding with such a grave allegation levelled against him.’
‘The matter is now closed’: NSW Police statement
In November 2019, a woman then aged 48, attended an Adelaide (South Australia) police station seeking advice about reporting historical sexual offences, which allegedly occurred in 1988 in Sydney (New South Wales).
The matter was then referred to the NSW Police Force and an investigation by the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad commenced under Strike Force Wyndarra.
NSW Police Force has been the lead agency in respect to this investigation since February 2020. For various reasons, the woman did not detail her allegations in a formal statement to NSW Police.
The woman passed away in June 2020. Following the woman’s death, NSW Police came into possession of a personal document purportedly made by the woman previously.
NSW Police have since sought legal advice in relation to these matters. Based on information provided to NSW Police, there is insufficient admissible evidence to proceed.
As such, NSW Police Force has determined the matter is now closed.
The woman, in a statement for her lawyers in 2019, seen by news.com.au, said she consented to a sexual act before she was forced to have oral sex and raped.
She alleged she said ‘please don’t make me’ and ‘no, I don’t want to’ during the ordeal. The woman told police her claims last year, but took her own life soon after.
The woman said she vomited on her dress and the man put her in a bathtub, then woke up to him raping her. She remembers him saying ‘I don’t want to get you pregnant’.
The woman, who suffered from an eating disorder, claimed she told no-one at the time because she was embarrassed and traumatised.
‘All I could cope with, as I remembered parts of the evening gingerly, was the idea that things had gone ”a bit too far”. But it was OK, I reassured myself, because we were going to get married one day,’ she wrote.
The woman said she knew the man for several years before the incident and attended social events with him.
She claimed he would belittle her and once told her: ‘You should be wearing a bikini. Pity your t**s are too small.’
Alongside her statement, the woman attached an image of the pair together on the night of the alleged incident.
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
March 2, 2021: NSW Police close the case
In the photo, the man is wearing a striped shirt which the woman claimed she asked him to iron before the night.
He allegedly told her she was ‘smart and pretty’ but could also do ‘good housewife things’.
He boasted that he would be prime minister by the age of 50 and would need a ‘smart, pretty wife to help his political career,’ she claimed.
The woman’s allegation became public last week after Scott Morrison received a letter from a mystery sender which included the statement.
Police were due to travel to her home in Adelaide in March 2020 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 before it was officially closed this week.
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’.
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.’
NSW Police said officers have sought legal advice about a ‘personal document’ made by the woman.
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 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.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged the minister to reveal himself and said it is ‘impossible for him to function in that cabinet’.
Ms Higgins (pictured) alleged she was raped in Parliament House after a boozy night out
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’.
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.
‘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.’