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Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a coronial inquiry into the death of a woman who claimed to have been raped in 1988 by a man who is now a federal cabinet minister.

Turnbull has also revealed the woman wrote to him in 2019 with details of the allegations and he had since passed that correspondence to the South Australian police.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Labor senator Penny Wong, and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young received a letter on Friday alleging the sexual assault took place against a woman who has since died.

That letter is in the hands of the Australian Federal Police.

Speaking at a Writers’ Week event in Adelaide on Sunday, Turnbull revealed the woman had written to him and his wife Lucy in December 2019 seeking their advice.

“She described a pretty horrific rape that she said had occurred at the hands of this person, a person she said is now in the cabinet,” Turnbull said.

“One of the things she noted, I might say, is that she’d kept extensive diaries.

“She mentioned that she had a lawyer and was talking to the NSW police.”

Turnbull wrote back expressing sympathy and concern for her and told her she was doing the right thing in going to police.

The former PM said after learning of the woman’s death in South Australia in the middle of last year it struck him there would likely be an inquest.

“I got in touch with the police commissioner here and I sent him the correspondence she sent us and our reply,” Turnbull said.

“I don’t know whether there will be an inquest or not. Frankly, there should be.

“The allegation is incredibly serious.

“In the circumstances, a woman who has got a complaint ongoing about a senior public figure, taking her own life.

“There clearly needs to be some form of inquest.”

Also on Sunday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it was up to the PM to consider what to do with the cabinet minister at the centre of the allegations.

Albanese said the allegations needed to be investigated appropriately and not politically managed.

“The prime minister must confirm to himself that it remains the case that the minister, who is the subject of these allegations, that it’s appropriate for him to stay in his current position,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.

“He must assure himself that it is appropriate, that the current position and make-up of the cabinet can continue.”

But Government Leader in the Senate Simon Birmingham earlier pushed back against suggestions the minister alleged to be involved should step aside and that the police should be allowed to get on with their job.

“We have to respect that we have justice systems in Australia, that everyone is entitled to natural justice and that in this case allegations have been made … and we have to back the appropriate authorities,” Senator Birmingham said on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, Senator Wong issued a statement revealing the complainant, who died in June 2020, had made the allegations to her face-to-face in November 2019.

“The complainant made an allegation that she had been raped many years earlier by a person who is now a senior member of the federal government. She indicated she intended to report the matter to NSW Police,” Senator Wong said.

This development comes after a parliamentary sitting fortnight that was dominated by an alleged sexual assault on a former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins by a male colleague.

Other women have also come forward accusing the same man of attacks on them.

Four inquiries are underway, including a multi-party investigation aimed at ensuring parliament is a safe working environment.

If you or a loved one needs assistance, call Australian hotlines Lifeline 13 11 14 beyondblue 1300 22 4636

By Tim Dornin and Colin Brinsden

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