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Australian attorney general denies rape allegation

Australia's attorney general on Wednesday outed himself as the unnamed cabinet minister accused of raping a 16-year-old girl, denying the decades-old allegation and trying to draw a line under a crisis that has consumed the country's conservative government.
After a week of speculation that has dominated Australian politics, 50-year-old Christian Porter -- the government's top lawyer and a former prosecutor -- tearfully denied wrongdoing, saying "the allegations never happened."
Porter insisted he would not step down, but he would take leave to deal with the mental strain caused by the allegations.
"I've discussed with the prime minister today that after speaking with my own doctor I'm going to take a short period of leave to assess and hopefully improve my own mental health.
“If I stand down from my position as attorney-general because of an allegation about something that simply did not happen, then any person in Australia can lose their career, their job, their life’s work based on nothing more than an accusation that appears in print,” Porter said. “If that happens, anyone in public life is able to be removed simply by the printing of an allegation.”
Porter was forced to come forward after senior lawmakers last week received details of allegations that in 1988 Porter raped a then 16-year-old girl who committed suicide last year before making a formal complaint to police.
Although Porter's identity as the accused was widely known, Australia's defamation rules had prevented media from naming him.
The Western Australia representative insisted he was the victim of a "whispering campaign" and "frenzied politicisation" driven by the media.
"For the many caring family and friends who have asked me that question over the course of the last week, "Are you OK?" I have got to say... 'I really don't know'," he said, breaking down.
Porter appeared in front of the cameras a day after police said they found "insufficient admissible evidence to proceed" with a prosecution in the case.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had insisted the allegations were a matter for police.
Morrison's government has been rocked by a series of sexual assault scandals, including harrowing allegations that a young staffer was raped by a colleague in the parliamentary office of the now-minister of defense Linda Reynolds.
Brittany Higgins, 26, said she was treated like a "political problem" when she reported the 2019 incident, which occurred just a month before national elections.
Reynolds also took medical leave after the allegations.
Morrison had initially defended his government's handling of that crisis but amid growing public outrage apologised.
Australia's parliament has been repeatedly criticised for a "toxic" workplace culture that has spawned persistent bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct against women.
The ruling coalition has also been accused of having a "woman problem", with a spate of high-profile female politicians quitting parliament ahead of the 2019 election and several citing bullying as a factor.
Last week Nicolle Flint, a prominent female Liberal member of parliament who publicly complained about sexist abuse, said she would step down at the next election.
Morrison has announced two female government officials will lead reviews into the sexual assault complaints process and workplace culture in the parliament.
But critics believe that work needs to be carried out at arm's length from the government.
Women lawmakers from minor parties have written to Morrison demanding an "urgent external review" of current policies and the establishment of an independent body to oversee future workplace complaints.


© 2021 AFP
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