Believing victims or presuming innocence? Q+A grapples with a hard question

Liberal MPs from the Prime Minister down have insisted that Attorney-General Christian Porter, accused of rape by a woman who has since died, be entitled to the presumption of innocence.

He has that presumption in a legal sense. He has not been imprisoned, fined, convicted or charged and the NSW Police investigation into the alleged 1988 rape is over.

Attorney-General Christian Porter put his public defence at a press conference in Perth this week.Credit:Trevor Collens

But he does not have that presumption in the minds of many. Mr Porter addressed those people in his press conference on Wednesday, where he denied all allegations point blank.

“Just imagine for a second that it’s not true, that for whatever reason the recollection and the belief, which I’m sure was strongly held, is just not true,” he begged those watching. “Just imagine that for a second.”

Q+A host Hamish McDonald asked panellists on Thursday night whether the two concepts, believing victims and presuming the innocence of those convicted of no crime, can coexist.

Sometimes he asked directly, sometimes obliquely, as the thread underpinning his questions.

“I think they can,” Labor MP Anne Aly said. “I don’t think they do now.”

She argued that in Mr Porter’s case, language about “procedural fairness” had been deployed by his allies to shield him but not the alleged victim, who took her own life in 2020.

That was also largely the answer of Dhanya Mani, a former Liberal staffer and fellow panellist who knew the woman. An independent inquiry was the answer, she said.

Nationals Senator Susan McDonald pivoted when she was asked directly, but the balance of her answers were on the side of presumed innocence.

“We can’t have a situation where allegations equate to guilt,” Senator McDonald said.

A fourth panellist, political journalist Samantha Maiden, who went to high school with the woman who accused Mr Porter, proposed a balance.

“I think that there is a strong argument that the justice system has failed not only the alleged victim but Christian Porter, because he has not been given the opportunity to be interviewed by police, to provide an affidavit, to have witnesses come forward,” she said.

“What I would like to see is a coronial inquest.”

It is also an option supported by the woman’s family, and because South Australian police are still investigating on behalf of the state coroner, perhaps the most likely to happen.

National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline: (13 11 14 and, the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467 and and beyondblue (1300 22 4636 and

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