Shorten gets on front foot over rape claim

Analysis

Bill Shorten's decision to come forward and name himself as the "senior Labor figure" who had been investigated – and cleared – of rape allegations by police is a bold attempt to put the issue behind him.

Whether voters have heard the last of it remains to be seen.

The allegations first surfaced late last year, soon after Shorten became Opposition Leader.

The few newspaper reports on the matter were careful not to name the Opposition Leader, but in the corridors of Canberra it was known Shorten was the subject of the investigation.

The allegation was also made explicitly on right wing blogs and social media.

Most voters are likely to have been unaware of the allegation, but anyone who had heard a passing reference to it could quickly jump onto Google and join the dots.

Now, the investigation that began last November when the allegations were first made is over and Shorten has addressed it publicly for the first time.

In an interview published by a national newspaper on Thursday, the alleged victim was quoted as saying "I think anybody who hears my story will know I am telling the truth … I never want to see his face again."

It is – potentially – a short step from those sentiments to a tell-all interview. Those comments, and that possibility, will not have escaped the notice of Shorten or his advisors.

Rumours have already surfaced in Canberra that an extended interview with the alleged victim may soon emerge.

By speaking up first, Shorten moves to define the parameters of the reporting – he did not to use the word "rape" in his statement on the issue – while getting on front foot and addressing a very serious matter in a dignified, respectful way.

He also heads off the possibility of the issue exploding onto the front pages of newspapers in the next week, or worse, in the middle of the next federal election campaign in about two years' time.

Bill Shorten reveals the sex assault allegations in Melbourne on Thursday. Picture: ANGELA WYLIE

Bill Shorten reveals the sex assault allegations in Melbourne on Thursday. Picture: ANGELA WYLIE

Such an eruption would be lethal.

Finally, the allegations had been taxing on Shorten and his family, as he noted in his statement: "This has been deeply distressing for my family. I'm thankful for the love and support of Chloe and the support of my staff and parliamentary colleagues."

No one likes to be the subject of a whispering campaign, especially one centred on an allegation as serious as this one was.

Shorten is said to have taken the decision only in recent days to tackle the issue publicly, now that the matter has been put to rest by police.

So will Shorten have damaged his standing with voters by speaking up?

Some, invariably, may simply not believe him. Others will give him the benefit of the doubt, and mark him up for speaking out first.

Much will ultimately depend on what happens next. If the alleged victim comes forward and shares her side of the story, this will become much more difficult for Shorten. 

smh.com.au

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