Australia PM shifts rape-accused minister in cabinet reshuffle

image copyrightGetty Images/EPA

image captionLinda Reynolds (left) and Christian Porter (centre) have been moved from senior positions

Australian PM Scott Morrison has removed a minister accused of rape from his role as the nation’s chief law officer, after weeks of pressure.

Christian Porter will no longer be attorney general but will remain in cabinet in a new portfolio.

Mr Porter has strongly rejected an allegation that he raped a girl in 1988 when he was 17.

Mr Morrison promoted several female lawmakers as part of a broader cabinet reshuffle on Monday.

The prime minister has faced intense pressure in recent weeks to respond to a series of rape, misconduct and sexism allegations which have rocked Australian politics.

Mr Porter will be replaced as attorney general and industrial relations minister by Michaelia Cash. He has been allocated the science and technology portfolio.

On Monday, Mr Porter said he had to be replaced as attorney general after commencing a defamation lawsuit against the ABC.

“[This] does not change anything in respect of the crucial principle that required me to instigate defamation proceedings,” he said in a statement.

Another senior minister who has faced criticism – Linda Reynolds – was removed from the defence portfolio, but she will also remain in cabinet as government services minister.

What’s behind the changes?

Calls to fix accusations of a sexist political culture have swept the nation in recent times.

A fortnight ago, tens of thousands of people marched in protests against the mistreatment of women in Canberra and wider society.

media captionWhy Australian women are saying ‘enough is enough’

In particular, scrutiny has fallen on the behaviour of male MPs and male advisers within the ruling Liberal Party.

The issue was ignited in February, after Brittany Higgins, a former aide, said she had been raped in 2019 by a male colleague in a minister’s office.

Ms Higgins, 26, reported the allegation to her then boss – Ms Reynolds – but said she had felt pressure not to report it to police.

Ms Reynolds has faced intense criticism for her handling of the rape allegation, and for calling Ms Higgins “a lying cow” this year – a slur for which she later apologised.

image copyrightNETWORK TEN

image captionBrittany Higgins, an ex-political aide who alleges rape, has inspired other women to come forward

Both Ms Reynolds and Mr Porter – who have been publicly defended by Mr Morrison – have been on medical leave in recent weeks.

Mr Porter’s accuser reported her allegation to police last year, but died months later. Without her testimony police have said they cannot pursue the case.

Mr Morrison has called Mr Porter an “innocent man under our law”, and has refused calls to hold an independent investigation into the allegation against him.

Among the cabinet appointments, Karen Andrews will be home affairs minister and another woman, Melissa Price, has been returned to the senior ministry.

The prime minister said the changes would bring more female perspectives into senior levels of government.

“I have very capable women operating in very important portfolios,” he said.

But misconduct scandals keep emerging for the government. Last week, government MP, Andrew Laming, stepped aside after apologising for harassing and bullying two women online.

In another case, a senior government adviser was also fired after footage emerged of him performing a sex act on a female lawmaker’s desk.

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