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Inquiry pressure mounts on PM as rape accused minister prepares to come clean

Politics

A Morrison government cabinet minister accused of a brutal historical rape will publicly identify himself in a declaration of innocence.

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The man is expected to front the media on Wednesday to protest his innocence for the first time after the allegations surfaced last week.

The alleged sexual assault occurred in 1988 when the woman was 16.

She went to police last year but decided to withdraw the complaint before taking her own life in June.

NSW Police closed its investigation into the historical allegations on Tuesday because there was not enough admissible evidence to proceed.

But pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to establish a judicial inquiry.

Lawyer Michael Bradley, who represented the woman, said it was no longer a criminal matter.

“We have a senior cabinet minister who’s been accused of a grave crime and that calls into question his integrity and, at the moment, the integrity of the whole cabinet,” he told the Seven Network on Wednesday.

Bradley believes the minister should step down while an independent inquiry looks at the allegation.

One of the woman’s friends, Jo Dyer, said the acts she described were shocking.

“The detail she recounted, the lucidity with which she recounted it and the clear impact that it had on her, all of these things persuaded me immediately she was telling the truth,” she told the ABC.

Morrison, who insists it is a matter for police, has previously said the member of his cabinet vigorously denies the allegations.

The minister has also sought advice from highly regarded defamation lawyer Peter Bartlett, a partner at MinterEllison.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Pauline Wright said independent inquiries were routinely conducted in government and corporate settings.

She said any investigation would need to ensure the minister received a fair hearing.

“The Australian people deserve to have it got to the bottom of. There needs to be some kind of investigation into this,” Wright told ABC radio.

Federal police have confirmed it is outside their jurisdiction after senior politicians sent them a letter detailing the claims last week.

The South Australian coroner is investigating the woman’s death but it’s uncertain if that will lead to a coronial inquest.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan said he could not see any reason why the minister should not continue in his role.

“To this day what we have seen are allegations, serious allegations,” he told the Nine Network.

“But if the simple mere allegation or making of an allegation would cause someone to be removed from office, that obviously sets a very dangerous precedent.”

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce backs an independent inquiry but wants it held behind closed doors to avoid a trial by media.

The government has been under intense scrutiny for more than two weeks after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019.

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