Malcolm Turnbull says Australian cabinet minister accused of rape must come forward

Katharine Murphy Political editor
·4 min read

Malcolm Turnbull has declared the minister accused of rape in 1988 “owes it to his colleagues and the country” to make a public statement addressing the allegations because the current situation is “not tenable”.

The former prime minister told the ABC on Tuesday morning it was also “vitally important” for the unnamed minister to disclose to the public what he knew about the now deceased woman’s complaint and “when he knew about it”.

“I think what the minister should do is what Kerry Packer did in 1985 when he was the subject of accusations … he should out himself and he should provide a comprehensive statement of what he knows about the allegations,” Turnbull said.

Related: 'She was a very credible person,' says friend of woman who claims minister raped her in 1988

“If he’s vigorously denied [the allegations] to the prime minister, he should vigorously deny them to the public”.

Turnbull argued the current situation was already, observably, untenable, and would become completely untenable if, when parliament resumed, the opposition used question time to ask every minister whether or not they were the person named in the complaint.

While Labor’s intentions in that regard are not yet clear, the Green senator Sarah Hanson-Young on Monday left open the possibility of detailing the complaint in parliament once the session resumed.

The former prime minister said it was not good enough for the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to “outsource” responsibility for who was in the ministry to the Australian federal police. Turnbull said Morrison should require the unnamed minister to “speak up”.

Turnbull said putting a process in train to resolve the controversy would allow the unnamed minister to provide a “comprehensive answer” to the allegations, which he “may well have”.

Morrison told reporters on Monday he had spoken to the minister about the allegations. Morrison said the minister “vigorously” rejects the woman’s claims. The prime minister has said investigating the allegations is a “matter for the police”.

Morrison told reporters he heard last Wednesday that allegations had been levelled against one of his ministers in a letter from friends of a now-deceased woman who had accused the unnamed minister of raping her in the late 1980s.

The prime minister said he had spoken to the minister on the same day, and to the commissioner of the Australian federal police that evening.

Morrison said before that time he had been aware of “rumours” of “an ABC investigative journalist making some inquiries” but he was unaware what the inquiries were about or who they might have related to because “I tend to not pay attention to the rumours”.

The prime minister suggested to reporters he had not read the letter detailing the allegations against the unnamed minister that had been sent to his office, but he had been “briefed on the contents”.

Related: As gut-wrenching scandals shake the government, Scott Morrison fumbles when he should lead | Katharine Murphy

Turnbull said on Tuesday the timing of the complainant’s death in the middle of 2020 seemed “counterintuitive” to him because the death had happened around the same time as the former high court justice Dyson Heydon had been found by an independent investigation to have sexually harassed six junior court staff.

He said because there had not been a coronial finding, all that was currently known was the complainant was deceased. Turnbull said there needed to be an inquest examining factors that might have led to the woman’s death. Close friends of the woman say she took her own life.

The lawyer who represented the woman before her death has also called for an independent inquiry. He argues the current situation is “untenable” because “at the moment there are 16 [cabinet ministers] who have a cloud over them, and that cannot continue”.

“There’s really no alternative here but for the minister to step forward, identify himself and step down, and for an external, independent inquiry of some form to be put in place to investigate,” Michael Bradley, a partner at Marque Lawyers, told Guardian Australia on Monday.

Bradley said “some kind of judicial inquiry” was required. The inquiry needed “proper powers” in order “to afford full procedural fairness to everyone, particularly the accused man”.