2 March 2021

Morrison refusal to stand down a Cabinet minister who is accused of rape is damaging his government, but more importantly it is sending a clear message to future victims: you won’t be believed. Richard Ackland explains why the ‘presumption of innocence’ excuse doesn’t cut it: “In times of need we all cling to the presumption of innocence and the legal standard required for conviction. The law is cautious and protective. Politics, however, is raw, cruel and on occasions destructive. The rule of law is not the same as the rule of parliamentary politics. The prime minister’s statement on ministerial standards says as much. ‘It is for the prime minister to decide whether and when a minister should stand aside if that minister becomes the subject of an official investigation of alleged illegal or improper conduct.’ Implicitly, the standards of the prime minister of the day determine the standards of the ministry in the face of an allegation of criminality. Being charged or convicted is not a precondition of the rather flexible standard. … [A]s a result of the complainant’s suicide last year, it cannot be thoroughly tested in the courts. … So it is the prime minister who is left without a chair when the music stops. To try and patch this politically, he would have to order an inquiry into the ‘alleged illegal or improper conduct’. It’s that or his ministerial standards don’t amount to a hill of beans.”