The Canberra rape allegations were back onstage at Writers’ Week yesterday, with former Liberal Cabinet member and senior politician, the inimitable Christopher Pyne, saying he knew the victim and her family.
“I don’t really want to get into a public debate about what is really an awful personal tragedy,” Pyne said. “I think it is just a terrible dilemma for the Prime Minister and for the entire Cabinet and the party because an allegation has been made and unfortunately the complainant is deceased which makes a dramatic difference to how it is investigated.”
He said he assumed that no-one wanted trial by public outing and it was up to the accused Minister to decide whether to name himself.
“If he wants to reveal himself that is a choice he can make,” Pyne said. “I feel very sorry for everybody involved in this and it is a terrible tragedy that the complaint was made and then the victim took her own life. It has made it an almost impossible dilemma to solve.”
Pyne, on the east stage with Melbourne broadcaster and author Sally Warhaft to talk about his book The Insider, said the woman’s family were from Adelaide’s eastern suburbs and he and the woman had moved in the same debating circles.
“She was five years younger than me,” Pyne said. “She was regarded as extremely talented and capable and it’s a terrible tragedy what’s happened.”
Asked how the Morrison Government could be kept accountable in relation to the allegations, Pyne defended the Liberal Government, saying it was not in the dock.
“The Morrison Government collectively is not responsible for these allegations, whether they’re true or not, and I don’t know whether they’re true or not,” he said in answer to a question from the audience. “I think Scott Morrison is handling a very, very difficult situation reasonably well.”
Pyne – who his friend and former colleague Malcolm Turnbull said from the same stage on Sunday was a man impossible to satirise – was in otherwise amusing form, including being drawn into the so-called 2016 “catastrophe” when so many Coalition politicians took an early mark one Thursday afternoon that the Government lost its majority on the floor of the House. It was the first time a majority government had lost a motion in 50 years and Pyne, who was Leader of the House at the time, carries the scars.
He recalled with amusement calling a National Party MP who was on his way to Sydney, telling him to turn his car around and come back because Parliament was sitting.
“He said to me, ‘No, Parliament gets up at 4.30 on Thursdays’, and I said, ‘Well isn’t that amazing because I am calling you from the Chamber from behind the Speaker’s chair and I’ve been sitting here for an hour and half and now you will turn your car around and you will come back’.
“I rather liked his chutzpah, telling me that the Parliament wasn’t sitting, as though I’d made up the whole thing.”
Pyne said everything changed after that, including having to master WhatsApp so he could set up an attendance group.
“It’s like having PTSD, you raising that subject – it’s bringing it all back to me, it was so ghastly in every respect,” Pyne said to Warhaft.
During an afternoon session on The Rise of the Independent Media, hosted by InDaily’s David Washington, author and media analyst Margaret Simons warned against a potentially alarming new political fracture between urban and regional Australia.
In a discussion about the changing nature of political power in the Australian media, she said Sky News once had a very small viewership for its “after dark” material featuring largely right-wing commentators. However, Sky had recently done a deal with WIN Television, a privately owned regional television network which reached more than five million people across six states, to broadcast Sky News free.
“So the whole of regional Australia is getting a very different media diet from you, and the potential for fracture in our national politics is obvious,” Simons said. “And also their social media following is rising exponentially, and has very close connections with Trumpism in the United States.”
Demonstrating the massive divergence in media in recent years, independent business media founder Michael West said the fiercely pro-Labor YouTuber friendlyjordies, the channel owned by 28-year-old Australian comedian and commentator Jordan Shanks, had almost half a million subscribers.
“That is an immense audience,” West said. “That is huge growth and I think independent media will start putting traditional media to the sword.”
Adelaide Writers’ Week continues in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden until March 4.
For more InReview coverage of Writers’ Week, click here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.