Australia’s most decorated soldier Ben Roberts-Smith has lashed fresh allegations against him as “baseless”, while the Seven Network has confirmed he will continue in his current role with the company.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes and the Nine newspapers published secretly-recorded audio of Mr Roberts-Smith vowing to “destroy” those levelling war crimes allegations against him, and lauding Seven boss Kerry Stokes for financing his legal fight.
The report also accused Mr Roberts-Smith of burying a USB containing images of misconduct by soldiers in his backyard.
But in a statement on Monday, Mr Roberts-Smith’s lawyers lashed the allegations as “baseless” and vowed to continue a defamation suit against journalist Nick McKenzie and the Nine newspapers.
They claimed the allegations were not put to Mr Roberts-Smith before they were aired, and the Victoria Cross recipient feared they were an attempt to intimidate him out of legal proceedings.
“The allegations aired this evening are baseless. These allegations are not supported by any evidence filed by Mr McKenzie and Nine in what has been an extensive pre-trial process,” the statement read.
“Mr Roberts-Smith denies that he has engaged in any unlawful conduct and he will not be intimidated by Mr McKenzie or Nine into not continuing with the Federal Court proceedings against them.”
The Seven Network also confirmed it had no intention of standing Mr Roberts-Smith aside from his role as company’s Queensland managing director.
It noted Mr Roberts-Smith’s denial of the allegations and said there was “no need to reconsider” his position.
“Insofar as most of the material aired is old, Seven notes that it is before the Federal Court and the court process should be respected,” it said in a statement.
“Insofar as new allegations are made they do not appear to be supported by evidence.”
The Seven Network is run by Kerry Stokes, also the chairman of the Australian War Memorial, who has bankrolled Mr Roberts-Smith’s legal defence over war crimes allegations.
In audio aired during the 60 Minutes program, Mr Roberts-Smith was heard saying Mr Stokes would “go all the way” in supporting his defence.
“There’s no f-ing way I’d be able to keep paying … until Kerry got into it,” he said.
“That’s why now they’re shitting themselves because he’s prepared to run his bank down to do it.”
Mr Roberts-Smith noted his surprise he was able to retain his job as a senior executive while under investigation, saying Seven had “been good” to him.
The report also revealed images on military bases in Afghanistan and Australia apparently depicting various forms of soldier misconduct, which it alleged were kept on a USB buried in Mr Roberts-Smith’s Queensland backyard.
One image appeared to show soldiers drinking from the prosthetic leg of an Afghan man, allegedly taken after he was killed.
In another, Mr Roberts-Smith was seen partying near a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit.
Another showed a dead Afghan man bleeding from his head, with two souvenir coins placed over his eyes. Two pairs of boots were visible next to the man’s head.
NSW Police have revealed why they never interviewed former Attorney-General Christian Porter over a 1988 rape allegation and confirmed the alleged victim tried to deliver a statement via Skype during the coronavirus lockdowns.
Outlining new information about how the case was handled, police have confirmed the woman who accused Mr Porter of rape asked to deliver her witness statement via Skype during the COVID-19 pandemic – a request the NSW Police resisted and her friends and family were never interviewed after her death.
The woman ultimately decided to withdraw her complaint after COVID delayed the meeting with detectives and died by suicide at home just 24 hours later.
Mr Porter strenuously denies the allegations that relate to a 1988 debating conference in Sydney. He has launched defamation action against the ABC over the reporting of an anonymous letter sent to the Prime Minister setting out allegations against a member of Cabinet.
He subsequently self-identified himself as the target of the allegations.
It was the woman’s decision to withdraw the complaint that resulted in police not interviewing Mr Porter after her death, according to NSW Police.
“It is current standard practice that once a signed victim statement has been obtained from a victim and further corroborative enquiries are made, the formal allegation can and should be put to the person of interest as per procedural fairness principles for investigators,” NSW Police said.
“On June 23, 2020 the (alleged) victim clearly communicated to investigators that she no longer felt able to proceed with the report. The NSWPF did not have a signed statement from the (alleged) victim, hence no formal allegation to put to the person of interest. In keeping with the (alleged) victim’s wishes no further investigation took place and the person of interest was not interviewed.”
NSW Police established Strike Force Wyndarra in February 2020 after receiving information from Mr Porter’s accuser.
Detectives from Strike Force Wyndarra were due to travel to Adelaide to take the woman’s formal statement in March 2020 but their trip was postponed after the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Wednesday June 24, 2020, the woman’s body was located at a home at Adelaide by South Australia Police. She had committed suicide just hours after telling police she did not want to proceed with a formal complaint.
In answers to questions on notice, NSW Police confirmed the complainant did ask to provide a formal statement over the telephone or via video.
“Yes. On April 1, 2020, the (alleged) victim requested that she commence her statement by way of Skype,” the response states.
“Investigators consulted with the (alleged) victim on April 2, 2020 by way of teleconference. Options were presented to the (alleged) victim in relation to obtaining her statement. A joint decision by all parties was made not to conduct the interview remotely. There were a number of reasons which led to this decision. The (alleged) victim was understanding and supportive of this decision.”
NSW Police also confirmed they made six telephone calls to the woman which were not answered.
The alleged victim also made two telephone calls to investigators which were not answered. On both occasions the woman’s missed calls were returned within seven minutes and five hours and 26 minutes respectively.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the responses from NSW Police demanded further explanation.
“These answers raise yet more questions about the response of the NSW Police,” he said.
“When you speak to experienced investigators who have dealt with historical allegations they will tell you it’s not perfect but sometimes it’s the only option to take a statement by phone or video link.
“What is very distressing here is that this was an option that was requested by the complainant and open to police but for whatever reason was taken off the table.”
The answers provided also detail the Australian Federal Police decision to brief the NSW Police on the letter outlining the allegations rather than send it to investigators in full.
The letter requested urgent action be taken by the Prime Minister to investigate the 1988 alleged rape.
It urged the Prime Minister to set up an independent parliamentary investigation into the matter, similar to that commissioned by the High Court into allegations against former Justice, Dyson Heydon.
“When news of [the complainant’s alleged] rape becomes widely known to the public (as it most likely will), legitimate questions will be asked as to who knew what, when they knew and what they did,” the letter states.
“This is occurring today in relation to Brittany Higgins. The loss of respect for our political institutions will be exacerbated.
“There will be considerable damage to community perceptions of justice … and the parliament when this story becomes public if it is simultaneously revealed that senior people (like yourselves) were aware of the accusation but had done nothing.
“Failing to take parliamentary action because the NSW Police cannot take criminal action would seem like wilful blindness.”
The South Australia Coroner is yet to determine whether to conduct a public inquest into the woman’s death.
Mr Morrison had previously only sought advice from his department, having declared Mr Porter an “an innocent man under our law” and insisting he would not be removed as Attorney-General.
Less than two weeks ago, he rejected suggestions he would ask Mr Donoghue to look into the matter.
“That’s not the advice that I’ve received from my department, as I’ve dealt with that issue,” he said.
In February, a historical rape allegation levelled at a senior cabinet minister, since revealed to be Mr Porter, was made public by the ABC after details of the alleged crime were sent to the Prime Minister.
Mr Porter has been on paid mental health leave since outing himself as the minister at the centre of the allegation.
He claimed the ABC and Milligan had subjected him to a “trial by media” and, despite not naming him, ensured it was inevitable he would be identified.
They will be defended by former solicitor-general Justin Gleeson.
NSW Police were unable to continue with an investigation after the alleged victim took her own life in 2020, a day after informing police she no longer wanted to pursue the matter.
The SA coroner has ordered a probe into the circumstances surrounding the woman’s death, but the government has resisted calls for an independent probe into her allegation.
It was a significant moment in Australian history that did not go unnoticed by the world’s media. Time Magazine, the BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Irish Times and Al Jazeera each dedicated significant coverage to the events.
The publication’s story touched on how deeply ingrained the culture of sexism and sexual harassment has become.
“Furious women across Australia are now opening up with their own experiences of sexism, sexual harassment and sexual abuse,” it read. “And it’s begun conversations about inherent discrimination and mistreatment of women — both within the halls of Australian government, and across the wider society.”
“Allegations have been laid by six women against a senior parliamentary aide Frank Zumbo, drawing attention to what many critics say is a toxic culture of masculinity within the nation’s federal parliament,” Al Jazeera wrote.
“Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to refuse to hold an independent inquiry into the allegations against Porter, and on Monday also refused to meet protesters on the parliament’s lawn in Canberra.”
“Wearing black and holding signs reading; enough is enough’, thousands took to the streets across Australia on Monday to protest violence and discrimination against women, as a reckoning in the country’s halls of power sparked by multiple accusations of rape continued to grow,” the Times wrote.
“The marches in at least 40 cities represented an outpouring of anger from women about a problem that has gone unaddressed for too long, said the organisers, who estimated that 110,000 people attended the demonstrations nationwide.
“With the next national election potentially coming as early as August, experts say it is something that the conservative government, which has come under stinging criticism for the way it has handled the accusations, ignores at its own peril.
“(Protesters) carried placards decrying misogyny, victim-blaming, abuse and rape,” the newspaper wrote.
“In Melbourne, a banner listed 900 women who have lost their lives at the hands of men since 2008. The rallies follow a wave of allegations of sexual assault, abuse and misconduct in some of the highest offices of Australian politics.
“They come amid a growing global movement demanding officials do more to protect women and to hold perpetrators of harassment and assaults accountable.
“The reckoning over assault allegations has reached the highest ranks of government. On Monday, the country’s top law official filed a defamation suit against the state broadcaster over an article that reported a letter had been sent to the prime minister containing a historic rape allegation.”
The BBC wrote that Monday’s rallies “could be the biggest uprising of women that Australia’s seen. And the Irish Times wrote that “public anger over the government’s handling of the alleged incidents mirrors the sentiment on display at protests in London over the weekend following the killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home at night-time”.
“Mr Morrison said Australia had made big strides toward gender equality over the years, though he acknowledged the job was ‘far from done’ and he shared the concerns of the protesters.
However, he raised some hackles by expressing pride in the right to peaceful protest when he said ‘Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not in this country.’”
NSW Police could not investigate the matter after the alleged victim took her own life last year, a day after telling them she no longer wanted to pursue it.
“The ABC and Milligan knew that the allegations could never be proved in any criminal or civil proceeding and despite that published the article to harm Porter and to ensure that he was publicly condemned and disgraced in the absence of any finding against him,” the complaint alleged.
An ABC spokesman confirmed the broadcaster would defend the action.
Under defamation laws, the broadcaster has available to it a number of potential defences, including truth, in which it would have to prove the allegation was true on the balance of probabilities.
Mr Porter said he would be prepared to testify under oath.
Four Corners aired an episode in November 2020 in which it accused Mr Porter of inappropriate sexual conduct. The 2020 broadcast did not include the rape allegation.
Mr Porter’s complaint said that by publishing the February article, which referred only to a “senior cabinet member”, Milligan and the ABC confected a scenario in which he would be “obliged” to out himself.
Mr Porter was widely named on social media, and the complaint claimed he was easily identifiable as one of just three male cabinet ministers of a similar age to the alleged victim.
After the Attorney-General outed himself, Four Corners aired a follow-up program outlining the allegation in detail.
“The ABC and Milligan were frustrated that they were unable to broadcast the allegations in the November Four Corners as they intended (because they were indefensible) and thus disingenuously published the article without naming Porter, in order to give effect to their intention to harm,” the complaint said.
It also accused Milligan of failing to disclose her “close friendship” with friends of the alleged victim.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has consistently refused to launch an independent inquiry into the allegation, claiming it would undermine the rule of law.
It comes after James Hooke, a former boyfriend of the alleged victim, revealed he had had what he considered “relevant discussions” with her about the alleged incident since mid-1988.
“These are all issues that require examination. The idea, as the Prime Minister has said, that we can just move on, that what has been happening over recent days and weeks can be unseen and unheard, is just not fair dinkum,” Mr Albanese said.
Mr Hooke said he also had “clear recollections of relevant discussions I had with Christian Porter” from 1992 to the mid-1990s.
Mr Porter claimed he had only been aware of a “whispering campaign … over the last few months”.
Mr Morrison declined to attend the rally in person, but offered to meet a delegation from the protesters in his parliamentary office. They turned down the offer, arguing issues of sexual assault had for too long been dealt with in secrecy.
Mr Albanese demanded the Prime Minister take notice of what Ms Higgins had said.
“I say to the Prime Minister: listen to it. Listen to what Brittany Higgins had to say. But because he wasn’t there, I’ll help him out,” the Labor leader said.
Mr Albanese read out Ms Higgins’ quote: “I watched as the Prime Minister of Australia publicly apologised to me through the media, while privately his media team actively undermined and discredited my loved ones.”
Labor MPs cried “shame!” at the PM.
“The idea that, as the Prime Minister has said, we can just move on, that what has been happening over recent days and weeks can be unseen and unheard is just not fair dinkum,” Mr Albanese said.
The comments were part of a scathing attack on what he said were Mr Morrison’s attempts to stymie progress.
“Not so much a tin ear as a wall of concrete,” he said.
“(Women are) crying out that this is a moment that requires leadership, and it requires leadership from this prime minister. And we are not getting it, Prime Minister,” he said.
Every Labor question was asked by a female MP and directed at Mr Morrison, who has faced increasing pressure over his handling of Ms Higgins’ story, and an historical rape allegation levelled at Attorney-General Christian Porter, which he denies.
When pressed on whether a claim his office had backgrounded against Ms Higgins’ now-partner was true, Mr Morrison said he had “no knowledge” of the incident.
“I would never instruct such a thing; I would never do that,” he said, to an outcry from Labor MPs.
“The apology offered to Brittany Higgins in this place was sincere, was genuine, and I’m happy to restate it.”
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds was also forced to settle a defamation suit and apologise to Ms Higgins, after labelling her former staffer a “lying cow”.
Mr Morrison has refused to sack Ms Reynolds, saying the comments were made in private.
When pressured, Mr Morrison said he was “pleased” Ms Reynolds had settled over what he labelled a “disgraceful slur”.
“Which you put up with!” yelled a Labor backbencher.
“If those opposite want to provide a Hansard of what is said in their offices on a daily basis, they may be in a position to cast stones,” Mr Morrison said.
“But I would simply say this: this was a statement that should never have been uttered, whether in a private office or elsewhere.”
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has settled a defamation legal case with former staffer Brittany Higgins with the damages she has agreed to pay to be donated to a Canberra based organisation that assists victims of sexual assault.
Ms Higgins will not receive any financial payment or compensation under the terms of the agreement and did not seek any from Senator Reynolds or the Morrison Government to do so in pursuit of resolving the matter.
News.com.au has confirmed that Senator Reynolds will withdraw the remarks and offer an unspecified charity donation.
“On Friday 5 March, 2021, I publicly apologised to Ms Brittany Higgins about the comment about her to my staff on 15 February, 2021,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement.
“I wish to further address that comment that I made. I did not mean it in the sense it may have been understood.
“Given that the comment was made public, which I never intended, I also want to retract it and unreservedly apologise to Brittany Higgins and acknowledge the hurt and distress it caused to her.”
The terms of the agreement are confidential, but traditionally may also cover Ms Reynolds’ legal costs which are likely to run to tens of thousands of dollars.
Senator Reynolds will also personally cover her own legal costs, under an agreement that taxpayers will not pay her personal legal costs over the matter.
It follows revelations that on the same day that Ms Higgins went public with an allegation that she was raped in Senator Reynolds’ office that her former boss called her a “lying cow” in the open plan office in Parliament House.
The outburst shocked her own staff who complained that the remarks were not appropriate, a complaint that Senator Reynolds accepted.
However, she insisted that she was not referring to the allegation of rape but the account of how much support Ms Higgins was offered after the event.
Ms Higgins has previously stated she never received any formal counselling from a taxpayer-funded Employment Assistance Program after the alleged rape because they were booked up for weeks.
Instead, she turned to the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre for support and psychological counselling after the alleged assault.
Previously, Senator Reynolds apologised to Ms Higgins over her decision to call a formal employment meeting with Ms Higgins a week after the alleged rape in the room where she said she was assaulted after work drinks in Canberra.
Lawyers for Ms Higgins demanded Senator Reynolds apologised a second time after it was reported that the minister called her a “lying cow”.
She went on medical leave in February the morning of a planned address to the National Press Club and the day after she was forced to correct the record after making a series of incorrect claims to the Senate over the allegations including that she had attended a meeting with police with Brittany Higgins.
On March 5, Senator Reynolds issued a statement saying Ms Higgins’ lawyers had been in contact and referred to reporting in The Australian that “attributed some remarks to me regarding the very serious allegations made by my former staff member”.
“I have never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and have always sought to respect her agency in this matter,” she said.
“In response to a letter from Ms Higgins’ lawyers yesterday afternoon, discussions are now underway through our legal representatives in an effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible, with any resolution to include an apology.
“However, in the meantime, I want to express how deeply sorry I am for these remarks and for any hurt and distress they have caused.”
Senator Reynolds had previously apologised to her staff for denigrating Ms Higgins and explained it has been a “stressful time”.
A law firm representing Ms Higgins demanded from Senator Reynolds “an immediate and unequivocal public withdrawal of your comments and apology to our client for the hurt and distress caused”.
Ms Higgins told news.com.au that the comments made by Minister Reynolds were “incredibly hurtful”.
“I appreciate that it has been a stressful time but that sort of behaviour and language is never excusable,” she said. “It’s just further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that exists behind closed doors in Parliament House.”
Speaking last Thursday, Mr Morrison called for compassion for the Defence Minister on the grounds she had a “stressful week” after it was revealed she had known for two years that an ex-staffer had alleged she was raped on her office couch.
Asked if she should resign, the Prime Minister said the “lying cow” comments were made in “private”.
“She has deeply regretted them,” he said. “She made them in a private office. She immediately apologised. It was soon after, I should say.
“She apologised to the staff about making what were inappropriate comments, long before it became public. And what is – I would just simply say to people – you know, it’s been a very traumatic several weeks for many people.
“People directly involved by these events are our primary concern. But equally, there have been others who have been drawn into this. They’re human beings.”
He said people said things they sometimes regret.
“I’m sure that all of you have found yourself, at a time of frustration, perhaps saying things you regret,” Mr Morrison said.
“And I would simply ask you, given the comment was made in a private place, that you offer the same generosity to how you perceive something you might have said, and perhaps apply the same standard to Linda Reynolds who, at the time, was under significant stress.
“She deeply regrets it. They were offensive remarks. She should never have made them. I don’t condone them. But what matters is that we continue to address the substance of the issues here, as we are.”
During a December visit to New York City, writer E. Jean Carroll says she went shopping with a fashion consultant to find the “best outfit” for one of the most important days of her life – when she’ll sit face-to-face with the man she accuses of raping her decades ago, former President Donald Trump.
The author and journalist hopes that day will come this year. Her lawyers are seeking to depose Trump in a defamation lawsuit that Carroll filed against the former president in November 2019 after he denied her accusation that he raped her at a Manhattan department store in the mid-1990s. Trump said he never knew Carroll and accused her of lying to sell her new book, adding: “She’s not my type.”
She plans to be there if Trump is deposed.
“I am living for the moment to walk into that room to sit across the table from him,” Carroll told Reuters in an interview. “I think of it everyday.”
Carroll, 77, a former Elle magazine columnist, seeks unspecified damages in her lawsuit and a retraction of Trump’s statements. It is one of two defamation cases involving sexual misconduct allegations against Trump that could move forward faster now that he has left the presidency. While in office, Trump’s lawyers delayed the case in part by arguing that the pressing duties of his office made responding to civil lawsuits impossible.
“The only barrier to proceeding with the civil suits was that he’s the president,” said Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor and now an adjunct professor of clinical law at the New York University School of Law.
“I think there will be a sense among the judges that it’s time to get a move on in these cases,” said Roberta Kaplan, Carroll’s attorney.
An attorney for Trump and another representative of the former president did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump faces a similar defamation lawsuit from Summer Zervos, a former contestant on his reality television show “The Apprentice.” In 2016, Zervos accused Trump of sexual misconduct, saying that he kissed her against her will at a 2007 meeting in New York and later groped her at a California hotel as the two met to discuss job opportunities.
Trump denied the allegations and called Zervos a liar, prompting her to sue him for defamation in 2017, seeking damages and a retraction. Trump tried unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed, arguing that, as president, he was immune from suits filed in state courts. His lawyers appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which is still considering the case. Zervos filed a motion in early February asking the court to resume the case now that Trump’s no longer president.
Zervos and Carroll are among more than two dozen women who have publicly accused Trump of sexual misconduct that they say occurred in the years before he became president. Other accusers include a former model who claims Trump sexually assaulted her at the 1997 U.S. Open tennis tournament; a former Miss Universe pageant contestant who said Trump groped her in 2006; and a reporter who alleges Trump forcibly kissed her without her consent in 2005 at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Trump has denied the allegations and called them politically motivated.
In September, after several unsuccessful attempts by Trump’s lawyers to get Carroll’s case dismissed or delayed, U.S. Justice Department officials under his administration took the unusual step of asking that the government be substituted for Trump as the defendant in the case. Justice Department lawyers argued that Trump, like any typical government employee, is entitled under federal law to immunity from civil lawsuits when performing his job. They argued that he was acting in his capacity as president when he said Carroll was lying.
Legal experts said it was unprecedented for the Justice Department to defend a president for conduct before he took office. When Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Federal District Court in Manhattan rejected that argument, the Justice Department appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has yet to rule on it.
It’s yet to be seen whether Justice Department officials under President Joe Biden, who took office last month, will continue to defend the case on Trump’s behalf. The White House and the Justice Department declined to comment.
If the appeals court upholds Judge Kaplan’s decision, it would likely clear the way for Trump to be deposed by Carroll’s lawyers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE DNA
Carroll’s lawyers are also seeking a DNA sample from Trump. Carroll says she still has the dress she was wearing when Trump allegedly attacked her.
“I hung it in my closet,” she said.
Carroll said she randomly crossed paths with Trump in the Bergdorf Goodman’s store in the mid-1990s. Carroll, who hosted a TV talk show at the time, said Trump recognized her. The two chatted, she said. Trump asked her to pick out a gift for an unidentified woman, and they eventually ended up in the lingerie department. After asking her to try on a body suit, Trump closed the door in a dressing room, pinned her against a wall, unzipped his pants and sexually assaulted her, according to the complaint.
Carroll said she told two friends about the alleged attack shortly after it happened, but did not report Trump to police, fearing retribution from the wealthy and well-connected businessman. Decades later, Carroll went public with her story in a June 2019 New York magazine article, adapted from a new book, “What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal.”
She said she was inspired to recount the incident by the #MeToo movement, which emboldened women to share their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. In photos shot for that story, Kaplan, at the request of the magazine’s photography director, wore the same black Donna Karan dress that she said she had worn on the day that Trump allegedly assaulted her.
When Carroll filed her lawsuit later in 2019, her lawyer, Kaplan, had a guard escort her to retrieve the dress from her closet for forensic testing. An analysis concluded no semen was found on the dress, but the DNA of an unidentified male was detected on the shoulder and sleeves, according to the Jan. 8, 2020 lab report, which was reviewed by Reuters.
If the dress does contain traces of Trump’s DNA, it would not prove his guilt. But a match could be used as evidence that he had contact with the dress and to help disprove his claims that he never met Carroll, according to two forensic experts not involved in the case.
“How his DNA got on that dress would be the argument,” said Monte Miller, a biochemist who runs a DNA analysis consultancy and previously worked at the Texas Department of Public Safety’s State Crime Laboratory. “It’s for the attorneys and the courts and everybody else to argue about why it’s there and how it got there.”
Carroll said she’s confident the DNA on the dress belongs to Trump and wants her day in court. She said she now sleeps with a gun next to her bed because she has received death threats since publicly accusing Trump.
“This defamation suit is not about me,” said Carroll, who meets regularly with other women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. It’s about every woman “who can’t speak up.”