Julie Bishop takes swipe at PM over rape allegations

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop has come out swinging over historical rape allegations and why the Attorney-General who is the subject of claims and the Prime Minister did not read an anonymous letter detailing the incident.

Speaking on ABC's 730 program on Monday night, Ms Bishop addressed the letter about a rape allegation against Attorney-General Christian Porter when he was 17, which he categorically denies.

The 31-page letter contained a statement from a complainant, taken by her lawyer, that detailed her allegation of a rape she said occurred in Sydney in 1988.

The letter, which included excerpts from her diary and a photograph of her with her alleged rapist from 1988, was forwarded to police by politicians who received it as well as Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The alleged victim, who has not been named, reportedly went to police last year but decided to withdraw the complaint and took her own life in her hometown of Adelaide in June at the age of 49 .

Mr Porter vehemently denied all the allegations of rape last week during an emotional press conference.

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop made a subtle dig at the prime minster over historical rape allegations. Source: ABC
Former foreign minister Julie Bishop made a subtle dig at the prime minster over historical rape allegations. Source: ABC

Ms Bishop told 730 she heard of the allegations about six months ago but was surprised by reports Mr Morrison and Mr Porter had not read the letter detailing the alleged incident.

"I have not seen the material. I have not seen any of the documentation. I haven't read media articles about it. But I wonder why they haven't," she said.

"I think in order to deny allegations you would need to know the substance of the allegations or at least the detail of the allegations."

Ms Bishop added she knew Mr Porter when he was a young lawyer in Perth, and described him as a "highly intelligent young man".

"He had a bright future ahead of him. People spoke of Christian Porter as someone who would go on to better things," she said.

"I didn't work closely with him. No one made complaints to me. The first I heard about these particular allegations was about six months ago from an informal source.

"Obviously as a senior female in the Liberal Party and as a deputy leader, had serious allegations been brought to my attention, I would have reported them to the Prime Minister, to the police, and continued down that path."

Bishop surprised by claim PM was kept in the dark

Ms Bishop told 730 she was also surprised the prime minister had not been told about allegations former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins was raped by an ex-colleague in her boss's office.

"In my experience, an allegation of that nature, a serious indictable offence, would have been brought to the attention of the prime minister immediately," she said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter vehemently denied rape allegations. Source: AAP
Attorney-General Christian Porter vehemently denied rape allegations. Source: AAP

"It's the kind of thing that prime ministers, in my experience, want to know about. I know there's an inquiry into what the prime minister's office knew and why they handled it the way they did. So I guess we'll know why this information was withheld from the prime minister.

"If someone had come to me with an allegation that a rape occurred ... in a workplace for which I'm responsible, I would have felt a duty, not only to that person, but to others in the workplace to inform the police."

Parliament 'a very unusual workplace'

Ms Bishop told the program there was a powerful culture within political parties to ensure no individual would do anything to damage a party's prospects, its image or reputation, leading to a cover-up culture.

"Particularly at election time," she said.

"There's so much at stake. One party forms government. Ministerial careers are in the balance, marginal seat holders could lose their seat, hundreds of staff jobs are on the line if you lose the election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference to answer sexual assault allegations made by staffer Brittany Higgins against a male staffer at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, February 16, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
There are claims Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not read an anonymous letter detailing rape allegations. Source: AAP

"So this culture has developed where there's a very low tolerance for mistakes, that people are encouraged not to do anything or say anything that is out of line with the party's prospects, and so that puts enormous pressure on staff, on members of the parliament.

"Toe the line, don't rock the boat, don't do anything that would damage the party's prospects."

Ms Bishop added this could cause a culture to develop where those who were prone to inappropriate, unprofessional or even illegal behaviour, got a sense of protection.

"They know that people aren't going to complain because that would damage the party, it would damage the party's prospects," she said.

"This is across parliament. It makes it a very unusual workplace in that regard."

Ms Bishop said there were no processes in place to counter the culture as staff employed by the taxpayer answered to the Department of Finance, who answered to the minister for finance.

"The finance minister is a political figure. So people are concerned that if they raise a complaint, if they raise an issue, then it may well become politicised, it will become public, it will be be the subject of a [freedom of information] application," she said.

Ms Bishop suggested the government needed to establish an independent complaints system so people could feel protected and secure if they did make a complaint.

'Big swinging d***s' failed to stop Bishop

Ms Bishop said the culture within Parliament House had developed over many years and was established at a time there were very few women in parliament.

"It's taken a very long time for this to be a change," she said.

"This is not just parliament. There's a broader issue across many sectors of the Australian economy – the entertainment industry is one, the media industry is another.

"Getting more women into parliament is not the immediate answer, but it will help.

"When you have a critical mass of women who put forward their views and state what is acceptable behaviour, you may well see change."

Host of the 730 program, Leigh Sales, also asked Ms Bishop about claims made by former Liberal politician Sharman Stone that a group of male politicians called the "swinging d***s" attempted to stop Ms Bishop's career progression.

"It was actually the big swinging d***s," the former minister said.

"No one self-identified to me. My ambition was to be the foreign minister of Australia, and I served in that role for five years. And likewise, I was deputy leader of the party for 11 years. If their ambition was to thwart my aspirations, then they failed."

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