Australian PM brushes aside talk of reshuffle after controversies, rallies

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison brushed aside on Thursday speculation of a ministerial reshuffle as he tries to reset the political narrative after a damaging controversy over his government’s treatment of and attitude towards women.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Numerous media outlets reported that Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and Attorney-general Christian Porter, who are both on sick leave, were likely to lose their Cabinet positions despite Morrison’s previous strong backing of them.

Morrison declined to comment on the media reports.

“All I can say is that when I make decisions on these matters I’ll communicate them and my reasons for it,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) radio.

A reshuffle could help Morrison as he tries to improve his standing with voters, many of whom have been angered by the government’s response over the past month to the alleged rape of a government staffer and broader issues of the treatment of women in politics and society.

“The government has tried to dance around this issue for long enough. But they are realising that the firewall is not sufficient and a reshuffle is necessary,” said Peter Chen, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney.

Reynolds has come in for criticism in the media and from the public for her handling of an allegation of rape by a member of her staff two years ago.

Separately, Porter on March 3 identified himself as the subject of a historical rape allegation and declared his innocence.

Politicians had earlier received an anonymous allegation of an assault in 1988 and had referred material to police. Police said on March 2 there was insufficient evidence to investigate the claim and closed the matter.

Porter has launched a defamation action against the ABC over a report on the allegation. He is on sick leave until the end of March when he said he planned to return as attorney-general.

Morrison said he was awaiting legal advice on possible conflicts of interest for the attorney-general, given his defamation proceedings, before deciding if changes portfolio changes were needed.

“He is not returning to work for some another week or so yet and that will be done in time for his return,” Morrison said.

A spokesman for Morrison declined to add any comment.

The issue of gender inequality brought tens of thousands of people out to rallies around Australia last week and led to a slump in Morrison’s standing in opinion polls.

Morrison drew criticism for declining to meet the protesters outside Parliament House.

Morrison later said he accepted the criticism and vowed to drive cultural change.

But his message was soured when he became involved in a terse exchange with a reporter and spoke of an unsubstantiated allegation of harassment at a media company. He later apologised for raising the allegation.

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