Attorney-General Christian Porter's name had been circulating on social media long before he outed himself this week as the unnamed senior Coalition minister accused of rape.
The email his staff sent at 2pm on Wednesday, alerting journalists to his press conference, flagged an end to the guessing. About an hour later, Mr Porter answered the question at the centre of a crisis overtaking the government, and revealed he was the accused.
NSW Police had already announced it closed investigations into the matter due to a lack of admissible evidence after the alleged victim died by suicide in June 2020.
Mr Porter denied he raped the woman who raised the allegations. He said he had been subject to "the most wild, intense and unrestrained series of accusations that I can remember in modern Australian politics".
It was a traumatic press conference for a nation trying to understand the shocking allegations raised against a senior minister and what they said about the nation's politics.
To some, Mr Porter's words were the end of the matter. A chorus of voices has risen in response, saying adamantly they were not.
Attention has turned to other methods for testing the allegations. Chief among them, favoured by some legal experts, is an independent inquiry they believe would restore faith in the government, provide Mr Porter the chance to clear his name, and treat with due seriousness the allegations raised against him
The family of the woman who raised the allegations on Thursday said they would support an inquiry. Labor, the Greens and independent MPs are pushing for one.
For now, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused such action, saying on Thursday police had dealt with the matter and given their understanding of the issues.
He explained it as an operation of "the rule of law".
"It is something that every single citizen of this country depends upon - and that is the principle upon which I seek to support to ensure the good governance of our country," he said.
"And so, as traumatic as these events are, that principle must continue to guide us, and will certainly continue to guide me and my government as we deal with these very sensitive issues."
Observers of Australian politics are waiting to see how the government's handling of the allegations against Mr Porter will affect its public standing. One early poll, by Essential Media and first reported in The Guardian, indicated a drop in the Prime Minister's personal standing among women.
Without a historical parallel to the events of the past week, political and polling experts find it hard to predict how they will affect the government in the long term.
Mr Morrison's response to the crisis, however, is one that looks familiar to Blair Williams, a politics and government expert at the Australian National University. She says the Prime Minister has buried his head in the sand and is waiting for it all to blow over.
It follows a pattern of behaviour that emerged in the federal government's response to the bushfire crisis, when it denied responsibility and said it was a matter for state firefighting services. Once again, she says, the Prime Minister is claiming he "doesn't hold a hose".
Previous scandals and failures - such as the sport rorts saga and bungled elements of the COVID-19 response - haven't permanently damaged either Mr Morrison's or the government's standing.
"He is waiting for the Teflon magic to work again," Dr Williams says.
But it might be in vain, she says, given the depth of anger in the public response to the allegations against Mr Porter.
The news of the rape accusations broke late last week as the nation was already focused on the treatment of women in politics. Last month, national attention turned towards sexual violence against women when former staffer Brittany Higgins raised allegations she was raped by a then fellow staffer at Parliament House in 2019.
Catharine Lumby, a University of Sydney researcher and long-standing advocate for the prevention of sexual assault and harassment, says the nation is going through a reckoning on issues of sexual assault and unsafe workplace cultures for women.
"There's already a lot of scrutiny being placed on how women are treated in politics. All workplaces should be safe and respectful and culturally inclusive. Unfortunately, we still haven't got to that point," Professor Lumby says.
"Sometimes an individual such as Christian Porter becomes the focus of what is a much broader reckoning that's going on, and there's widespread concern in the Australian community about the treatment of women in workplaces and more generally in society, and that concern is increasingly shared by men."
After the relative political calm of the COVID crisis, the Coalition has struggled to control the national conversation arising from the shocking allegations of sexual violence committed against women that have emerged since February.
The press coverage and public discussion of rape allegations against Mr Porter were labelled this week as a "trial by media", even though mainstream media outlets did not identify him as the alleged perpetrator until his press conference.
Twitter users raised his name as the nation waited for the minister to out himself.
Supporters of an independent inquiry say the allegations will be tried and tested through both media coverage and on social media until Mr Morrison calls an investigation.
An independent inquiry is an open question, but police investigations into the allegations that might lead to a court trial have ended.
The woman allegedly raped by Mr Porter went to NSW Police in 2020. Officers started an investigation but suspended it when she died by suicide last year after telling authorities she didn't want to proceed. A formal statement was never provided to NSW Police.
The alleged assault is said to have occurred in January 1988, when both the woman and Mr Porter were teenagers attending an end-of-school debating tournament at the University of Sydney.
Mr Porter on Wednesday said he knew the woman "for the briefest periods".
"We were both selected with two others on the Australian Schools Debating Team and we went to Sydney University for an international competition," he said.
"It was a long time ago - I always remembered it as a happy time - but I can say categorically what has been put in various forms and allegations simply did not happen."
The Prime Minister, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Labor senator Penny Wong each received a letter detailing the allegations against Mr Porter last week.
Senator Wong forwarded the letter to the Australian Federal Police, which said it would liaise with the relevant state authorities. It does not have jurisdiction of such matters.
South Australia police are also assisting a coronial investigation into the woman's death last year. However the inquiry will not focus on the alleged incident of 33 years ago.
Advocates for an independent inquiry argue that a cloud will hang over Mr Porter, and undermine public confidence in the Attorney-General, until the claims are appropriately scrutinised.
We need to send a signal that allegations will be taken seriously.Professor Rosalind Dixon
It's within the Prime Minister's powers to call an investigation into the conduct of a minister and appoint "an appropriate independent authority" to lead it.
Pauline Wright, a lawyer and president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, says that if the allegations are to be investigated, there is no other option but an independent inquiry.
A leading legal mind, or retired judge, could lead the investigation, she says. Detailed evidence could be put to Mr Porter for response and cross-examination.
"There's nothing unusual about an administrative or civil process going on inquiring into behaviour that would potentially be criminal," she says.
"It happens all the time, when you're looking at workplace relationships, where there are allegations within a workplace for instance, of really quite egregious cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault."
The recent inquiry into the conduct of former High Court justice Dyson Heydon provides an example for a possible investigation, Ms Wright says.
It tested the evidence available and made recommendations for the court to consider.
"None of those things is identical to what the Attorney-General is facing, but they are analogous in a sense - and certainly there is nothing novel about the idea that an independent investigation takes place into people's behaviour if they're professionals, or if their standing in the public eye is essential to their role," Ms Wright says.
"That is the case with the first law officer of Australia."
Opponents of an independent inquiry deny the allegations against Mr Porter could be tested in a similar way to employer-instigated investigations into staff conduct, or to the inquiry into Dyson Heydon's behaviour.
Terry O'Gorman, a lawyer and president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, says workplace inquiries relate to alleged behaviour that is current or recent, and involve complainants who are alive and available to give statements.
"This is not a workplace incident. It relates to an allegation of sexual assault 33 years ago, utterly and completely disconnected from the workplace, so our position is the analogy simply is not there at all," he says.
Rosalind Dixon, a law professor at the University of NSW, says Mr Porter's denial was powerful, but not enough to end public doubts and concerns, given it was not tested nor provided under oath.
"It's about restoring trust in our system of government," Professor Dixon says.
"This is not just about the government generally - it's about the legal system, the person responsible for law reform and the administration of the laws.
"It's really important that people trust that he's fit and proper."
Supporters of an independent inquiry argue it would signal to survivors of sexual assault that, when they make a complaint, it will be taken seriously.
"It doesn't mean believing it without testing it, without challenging it, but it means having a process," Professor Dixon says.
"Police have done a great job no doubt, but that is a process for the purposes of a criminal prosecution, and that can't proceed in a meaningful way when the complainant is dead.
"That doesn't mean the allegation isn't meant to be taken seriously. We need to send a signal that allegations will be taken seriously."
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