Two major news stories over the past few days have gripped Canberra.
The first is the alleged rape two years ago, in the office of a government minister in Parliament House, of Brittany Higgins, a junior press secretary, by another employee in the ministerial office, after some major social occasion.
Since then, two other women have come forward to claim that they have been raped by that same man, and another has claimed to be sexually harassed by him. It seems, on the face of it, that a serial rapist has been stalking the corridors of power in Canberra in the guise of a rather junior (but apparently obscenely well paid) political staffer.
It took me a couple of minutes of internet searching to find the identity of the alleged rapist online. I am not going to sensationalise things by revealing it. Presumption of innocence and due process are owed in this case. [If you really want to know, visit the blackly humorous http://www.clownworldau.com who have been discussing this case at great, and somewhat inappropriate length.]
The main issue I see is whether or not the office of Minister Reynolds (and perhaps the Minister herself) sought to protect the rapist (and the government which was about to face an election) from the consequences of his action by pressuring Ms Higgins into not making a formal complaint to police.
If that is the case, then Minister Reynolds should go, and probably some of her staffers involved in the cover up as well. I am unsure as to whether charges relating to perverting the course of justice might be appropriate, as well as contempt of parliament (covering up a rape inside the ministerial wing of Parliament House seems like contempt to me). My uncertainty is not because I am not a lawyer (lawyers are always going to give you the answer Maybe to any question), but simply because we do not really know all the facts of the case yet.
However, the matter is probably not that simple. I believe that what happened is that the Minister and her Chief of Staff initially felt that they were dealing with a breach of security by two drunken (and possibly randy) staffers after a party, and were going to deal with it on that basis as a disciplinary matter.
I expect that, after they discovered that there was something more to it than that, they would have gone through the explicit motions of going through with recommending Ms Higgins go to the police. For all that Ms Higgins believes (and I believe that she believes) that she was pressured into dropping that matter to keep her job, I doubt that anyone is going to find evidence that explicit pressure has been laid on her, regardless of what she feels implicitly happened.
Now that Ms Higgins has gone to the police, albeit 2 years later than she should have, we will see what happens in court. I expect that in this case, her testimony, various elements of security footage and the sign in registers (she was not carrying her pass), and the testimony of the security staff who found her not long afterwards, would make for fairly compelling evidence.
[As an aside, I think Minister Reynolds needs to go anyway, regardless. Defence Minister is a serious position – if we were at war, we would need whoever is in that job to be able to cope with huge amounts of stress. However, at the slightest twinge of stress, she runs and hides in hospital. She fails the stress test, and therefore her continued presence as Defence Minister puts our nation at risk.]
The other major story is that allegations have now emerged that a serving Cabinet Minister committed a rape over 30 years ago prior to his political career.
What we know about this case is that the alleged rape occurred in 1988 in NSW, when the victim was 16, and that she has recently committed suicide.
A lot of people are now scratching their heads as to who of the 16 male cabinet ministers in the Morrison government could be this alleged rapist. Whilst I have not been able to find a definite name floating around through my internet searches, at least one discussion thread on Reddit has narrowed it down to three, possibly two, people.
Process of elimination means that you can narrow it down considerably. The suspect probably was at least 16 at the time, and to be in contact with 16 year old women to that extent, probably was no older than 22. Which gives a birth year of 1969, give or take three years. The suspect also was in NSW in 1988, so you probably can rule out those people who were living interstate or overseas (although it is possible, albeit less likely, that the person was a visitor to NSW rather than a local).
So I am pretty convinced now that I know who it is who is accused.
I am also inclined to believe the allegations. Much as my voting sympathies lie with the coalition, I also feel a personal dislike and aversion to most Liberal politicians. Most of the ones we see on TV or read about at the moment seem very hypocritical and self-serving, with frequent accusations of looking after their own vested interests.
However, how can these allegations ever now be tested? The victim is now dead, and her testimony is probably, after 31 years, the only evidence which still existed.
And much as the Labor Opposition is calling for this unnamed Cabinet Minister to be stood down, they are not exactly pure as the driven snow on such issues either. In August 2014, the then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten went on record to deny the allegations that he had raped a 16 year old at a Young Labor camp in the mid 1980s. The evidence there, in terms of a living victim, is more compelling than in the current case and yet was considered insufficient to support a police prosecution, let alone be tested in a court.
But it is not the court of law where these matters are tested. It is the court of public opinion. With an election due this year, this matter is not going to go away, and I expect that the Prime Minister is going to be carefully considering the felicific calculus of what is going to hurt his reelection chances the least – either trying to brazen it out or to proactively stand down the alleged rapist.
I also think that the Labor Party needs to think about whether their own alleged rapist should remain on their front bench, or whether he should also finally look at retirement – Shorten was able to lead Labor to two elections after the rape allegation emerged, without any concerns that perhaps he really was guilty of that act. Right now, I think that the mood of the community has rapidly changed away from one where unproven or untested allegations can be swept aside, the way occurred 7 years ago,