Attorney-General Christian Porter has identified himself as the federal minister at the centre of historical rape allegations.
The senior cabinet minister on Wednesday came forward to categorically deny the incident occurred after sexual assault allegations against an unnamed minister surfaced last week.
He announced he would not be standing down, or aside, and instead on the advice of his doctor, he would take a short period of leave “to assess and hopefully improve my own mental health”.
The woman, who was 16 at the time of the alleged rape in 1988, went to police last year but withdrew the complaint before taking her own life in June.
Porter started by addressing the parents of a woman, whom he said he knew for “the briefest period” at debating competitions when they were teenagers.
“I have thought long and hard about the implications for you of what I feel I need to say today, and I hope that whatever else happens from this point that you will understand that in saying today, that the things that are being claimed to have happened, did not happen – that I do not mean to impose anything more upon your grief,” he told reporters in Perth.
“But I hope you will also understand that because what is being alleged did not happen I must say so publicly.”
The attorney-general said all the information he had about the allegations was what had been circulated online and in media outlets.
“The allegations appear to be about a period in early 1988 during an end of school debating competition at Sydney University,” he said.
“I was 17 years old and the other person was 16. We were both selected with two others on the Australian school debating team.
“It was a long time ago and I always remembered it as a happy time. But I can say categorically that what has been put in various forms in allegations simply did not happen.”
Porter said he hadn’t had any contact with the woman at all, to the best of his recollection, in the past 33 years.
“I remember the person as an intelligent, bright, happy person but I hadn’t had any contact from that person at all, to the best of my recollection … since that time in January 1988,” he said.
“We were friends, we hung out together … we did what normal teenagers would do.
“I did not sleep with the victim. We didn’t have anything of that nature happen between us. I can say to you all, it didn’t happen.”
Porter said he stayed silent to respect the legal processes since first hearing of a “whispering campaign” against him.
“While I have followed the rules and stayed silent I have been subject to the most wild, intense and unrestrained series of accusations I can remember in modern Australian politics,” he said.
He said if he was to resign there would be no need for an attorney-general because there would be “no rule of law left to protect in this country”.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will be acting attorney-general while Porter is on leave.
NSW Police on Tuesday issued an updated statement to say there was “insufficient admissible evidence” to continue with an investigation.
It, therefore, concluded the “matter is now closed”.
The AFP confirmed it had received a complaint relating to a historical sexual assault but would not comment further.
‘Vigorously denied the allegations’
On Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters the minister – who he did not name at the time – had “vigorously and completely denied the allegations”.
“So that means there is a proper process now for it to follow.”
He added the “making of an allegation” should not be grounds for a person to be stood down.
“These are very distressing issues that have been raised, as there are other issues that have been raised in relation to other members in other cases, but the proper place for that to be dealt is by the authorities, which are the police,” he said.
“That’s how our country operates. That system protects all Australians.”
The woman’s friends shared a letter last week with politicians and the media, purportedly from the victim, after Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins went public with her own allegations of sexual assault.
The South Australian Coroner said in a statement on Wednesday that the investigation into the cause and circumstances of the woman’s death is continuing.
“Once that investigation has been completed to my satisfaction, I shall determine whether to hold an inquest,” State Coroner David Whittle said.