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Cabinet minister rape claim: victim’s friend says she wants alleged perpetrator ‘sacked’

Melissa Davey
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP</span>
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

As pressure builds on Scott Morrison to investigate allegations of a historical rape levelled against one of his cabinet ministers, a woman who had known the victim for 30 years has come out to say she “absolutely, 100% believes” her friend.

New South Wales police have confirmed the alleged victim reported the incident to them in February 2020, and the allegations have also been forwarded to the Australian federal police.

Related: Former Liberal minister attacks 'secret men's business' after cabinet minister accused of historical rape

The woman took her own life in June.

“It’s just so tragic, she would have turned 50 a few days ago,” the woman’s friend, who did not want to be named, told Guardian Australia.

“When I last spoke to her, her self-esteem was pretty low. She told me about what had happened with the rape. And I was trying to build her up again. I was so angry … At one point I wanted to write to [the alleged perpetrator] and say ‘this is what my friend said, and I believe her’. But what would that have done?”

She said while she did not believe the alleged rape was the key factor that led to her friend’s death, it was a contributing factor because the position of the man meant he was constantly in the media.

“I want him to be sacked,” she said. “She was just such a lovely, inspiring woman … Why would she be making it up?”.

Another friend of the woman told Guardian Australia on Friday the alleged rape and the woman’s death last year had been “a source of great anguish to the many friends of the young woman concerned”.

“All we wanted was justice for her – it seems now we’re inching closer to that in some way.”

On Saturday, Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, issued a statement saying that during the week her office received an anonymous letter which was also addressed to the prime minister and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

“The contents of the letter, and an attachment which appears to be a statement prepared by the complainant, relate to an allegation of rape,” Wong said.

“The woman who made this allegation died in June 2020. I understand the complainant reported this allegation to the NSW police force and South Australia police. I have forwarded the letter to the NSW police force, South Australia police and the Australian federal police to assist in any investigations which may be underway.

“I have also written to the prime minister and Senator Hanson-Young to outline the steps I have taken following receipt of this anonymous letter.”

A coronial investigation into the complainant’s death is underway in Adelaide, and Wong said she had offered to help that inquiry. Wong said she first became aware of the complainant’s allegation when she ran into her in Adelaide in November 2019.

“The complainant reminded me we had met once before,” Wong said. “The complainant made an allegation that she had been raped many years earlier by a person who is now a senior member of the federal government. She indicated she intended to report the matter to NSW police.

“I said that making a report to the appropriate authorities was the right thing to do.”

The death of the woman was “a tragedy, and devastating for everyone who knew and loved her”, she said. “The woman, and her family and friends, have been in my thoughts throughout.”

The federal finance minister, Simon Birmingham, on Saturday rejected the suggestion that the minister at the centre of the allegations should stand aside or come forward.

Related: Cabinet minister accused of historical rape in letter sent to Australian prime minister

“Everybody is entitled to natural justice and it’s important to back the police to do their job,” he said. “We back the police to do their job in this and every other instance, and that’s the right way to handle this … I want to see the police empowered to do their job.

“I think we have to respect that we have justice systems in Australia ... and in this case, if allegations have been made, as I understand from media reports they have been, that we have to back the appropriate authorities, the police, to do everything they can to investigate and to, to their satisfaction, determine the appropriate course forward, free of any sense of political interference or direction.”

Hanson-Young said on Saturday that “it is only right that the prime minister makes sure that this isn’t swept under the carpet, and that he acts to ensure the integrity of his government”.

“We can’t have a situation where such an horrific allegation of rape is levelled against a senior member of his government and no one does anything,” she said.