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Lawyers school PM on rape claim response

Senior lawyers have schooled the prime minister on his understanding of Australia’s criminal justice system as they urge him to launch an independent investigation into rape allegations against a senior minister.

Scott Morrison believes his minister’s denials of the rape and says he has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police.

“I’m not the police force. I have given it to the police to investigate,” he told reporters in Sydney on Monday.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is disappointed by his response.

The council’s president Pauline Wright says passing the issue to the federal police is “nothing short of an abrogation” of Mr Morrison’s responsibility for the proper governance of Australia.

“It is the prime minister, not the commissioner of the AFP, who is ultimately bound to consider whether the person is fit to serve in cabinet,” she said on Tuesday.

“While the police investigation and criminal process should run its course, the prime minister should be considering as a matter of priority, and irrespective of any criminal process, the institution of an independent investigation into the complaint.

“He has at his disposal all of the resources of his office as the first minister of Australia, including the power to appoint an independent investigator.”

The incident is alleged to have occurred in 1988 when the woman was 16.

She took her own life last year after telling authorities she didn’t want to proceed with an investigation.

The council says Mr Morrison should follow the approach taken by the High Court and launch an independent inquiry.

Former High Court justice Dyson Heydon was last year found by the court’s own independent inquiry to have sexually harassed six young female associates.

Ms Wright says independent investigations are a routine part of corporate and government department procedure for staff facing allegations of sexual harassment or bullying.

“Internal arms’ length investigations are commonly undertaken in workplaces either in a parallel process if police charges are pursued, or as an alternative if police charges are not pursued,” the former Law Council president said.

Professional associations also investigate serious issues if they would bring the industry into disrepute, and can be taken to court to decide if someone is a fit and proper person to continue in their position.

Mr Morrison also claimed police decide if allegations are right or wrong.

“This is patently wrong,” Ms Wright said.

“Under our criminal justice system, it is the courts, and not the police, that have the function of making all necessary findings of fact if the matter goes to trial.”

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