‘Step down’: Pressure mounts on accused cabinet minister

The accused minister is expected to make a public statement on Wednesday.

The accused minister is expected to make a public statement on Wednesday.

Pressure is mounting on the cabinet minister at the centre of a historic rape allegation to step down and for a judicial inquiry into the claims.

The accused minister, who emphatically denies all allegations, is expected to make a public statement on Wednesday and repeated his staunch denial of the brutal assault.

No time has yet been revealed for that announcement.

The New Daily contacted the office of a cabinet minister who has been the subject of much speculation online but has had no response.

Ahead of Wednesday’s much-anticipated statement, the minister has sought advice from highly regarded defamation lawyer Peter Bartlett, a partner at MinterEllison.

It came as pressure builds on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to establish a judicial inquiry into claims the man raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988. The woman at the centre of the accusations died in 2020.

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.

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

He also said it was an “appropriate” step for the accused man to make a public announcement.

“It’s a necessary thing to happen,” he said.

“I hope that he’ll directly address the allegation and we’ll all hear what his position on that is and that will sort of dictate what the next step should be.

“I also hope that he or someone from the government at some point says something acknowledging the humanity of my client which has sadly been absent so far.”

Mr Bradley said the man should be considered innocent until proven guilty and, given NSW Police’s decision to declare the matter closed, “that presumption of innocence will always remain”.

The woman involved went to police in 2020 but decided to withdraw the complaint before taking her own life in June.

NSW police have ruled out any further investigation into the woman’s claims.

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

The Australian Federal Police have confirmed the incident is outside their jurisdiction.

One of the woman’s friends, Jo Dyer, said the acts the woman 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.

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

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

“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.

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,” Ms Wright told ABC radio.

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

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.

-with AAP

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