SYDNEY – Australia’s leader has reassigned some key members of his Cabinet and launched a new task force as he tries to address a series of sexual misconduct scandals that have rocked his government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison removed embattled ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds from their high-profile roles.
Porter, who was the attorney-general, had earlier taken mental health leave after revealing he was the person accused of raping a 16-year-old girl when he was a teenager 33 years ago. His accuser has since died and police are not pursuing any charges.
Reynolds, who was the defence minister, had been heavily criticised for failing to adequately support a young staffer who alleged she was raped by a more senior colleague in the minister’s office two years ago.
Reynolds was forced to apologise after it emerged she had called the staffer a “lying cow.”
Under the Cabinet reshuffle announced by Morrison, Michaelia Cash will become the new attorney-general and Peter Dutton will take over as defense minister.
Porter will be reassigned to industry minister, while Reynolds will become the government services minister.
Toxic culture for women
Morrison also announced he was starting a new Cabinet task force to address issues of women’s equality, safety, economic security, health and wellbeing. Morrison will co-chair the task force along with Marise Payne, the minister for women.
Morrison said the changes would mean the Cabinet would have the strongest ever representation of women.
“But it’s not just about the size of the female contingent in my cabinet; it’s the skills and the experience, it’s the perspective, and it’s the collaboration they bring to our nation’s most difficult tasks,” Morrison said.
The rape allegations have not been the only sexual misconduct scandals to hit Parliament as the perception grows that it fosters a culture that is toxic for women.
Last week Ten Network television news reported that several male government staffers had set up a Facebook Messenger group that enabled them to share images and video of sex acts performed in Parliament House, including on the desks of female lawmakers.
Morrison said he was shocked and disgusted by those allegations.