Letter to PM reveals new rape allegation against cabinet minister

Australian Associated Press
·4-min read

A letter has been sent to Prime Minister Scott Morrison alleging a 1988 rape by a current cabinet minister.

The letter, from a woman who is no longer alive, was also addressed to Labor's leader in the Senate Penny Wong and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

It comes with a detailed statement prepared by the complainant for her lawyer, ABC's Four Corners has reported.

Senator Wong said in a statement on Friday evening that it was her understanding the complainant, who was 16 at the time of the alleged attack in Sydney, reported the assault to NSW Police and South Australia Police.

Ms Wong said she had forwarded the letter to both police forces as well as the Australian Federal Police to assist with any investigations.

A letter has been sent to Scott Morrison alleging a historical rape by a current cabinet minister. Source: AAP
A letter has been sent to Scott Morrison alleging a historical rape by a current cabinet minister. Source: AAP

"I have also written to the Prime Minister and Senator Hanson-Young to outline the steps I have taken following receipt of this anonymous letter," she said.

"It is my hope that appropriate action is taken to examine the allegation."

Four Corners says the woman reported the alleged rape to NSW police in February 2020, but took her own life in June after informing them she no longer wanted to proceed with the complaint.

The explosive revelations come a fortnight after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins's rape allegation engulfed parliamentary sittings, prompting Australia's major political parties to back a cultural overhaul.

The Morrison government has been under intense pressure over its response to the 2019 incident, in which Ms Higgins alleges she was sexually assaulted by a former colleague in Parliament House.

There are four inquiries under way including a multi-party investigation aimed at ensuring parliament is a safe working environment.

Labor Senater Penny Wong also received the letter and forwarded it to police. Source: AAP
Labor Senater Penny Wong also received the letter and forwarded it to police. Source: AAP

That will take in reviews of culture around the treatment of women in the Liberals and Nationals.

Labor's national executive on Friday adopted a code of conduct and three policies dealing with sexual harassment prevention and response, harassment and bullying, and complaints handling.

The party's working group on the issue will report back in June on feedback from members, proposals for additional training and support, and a "roadmap" to harmonise policies and procedures across all state and territory branches.

Labor MP Sharon Claydon, who chairs the group that has drafted the new policies, raised the prospect of having an independent third party investigate allegations about the party.

"There is I still think room for a broader discussion in Labor about whether there are times where you would want to also engage a complete independent outside source," she told the ABC.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne discussed the issue with members of the Liberal Women's Council of NSW in an online forum on Thursday.

Ms Higgins is pushing for change after feeling she wasn't supported when she first made the allegation, leading to her withdrawing her police complaint out of fear for her job.

She reinstated the complaint on Wednesday and an investigation is under way.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds was released from hospital on Friday after being admitted on advice of her cardiologist.

Senator Reynolds, who was Ms Higgins' boss at the time of the incident, was under extreme scrutiny about her handling of the complaint.

The letter reportedly details a 1988 rape by a current cabinet minister. Source: AAP
The letter reportedly details a 1988 rape by a current cabinet minister. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney he had no firm timing for the receipt of a report by his department secretary Phil Gaetjens into what his office knew of the allegations and the handling of Ms Higgins' case.

"He (Mr Gaetjens) has been making engagements with my office to follow up those matters and when I receive that report I can report further," Mr Morrison said.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton defended referring to details of Ms Higgins' case as "she said, he said".

He said he was pointing out that police hear different evidence before deciding whether a prosecution would take place.

"That is not to detract from a victim, not to detract from the seriousness of this matter," Mr Dutton told the Nine Network.

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