Two ministers engulfed in weeks of scandal have been demoted as Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveils a new frontbench focused on promoting women.
Former Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds have been dumped from their roles in the second cabinet shake-up in four months.
However both ministers, who are on medical leave, will remain on the frontbench upon their return.
After over a month of scandal focusing on the men’s mistreatment of women, Mr Morrison said the overhaul would provide the chance to look at the issue through a “fresh lens”.
Mr Morrison confirmed he would chair, alongside Minister for Women Marise Payne, a new task force in response to issues surrounding women’s equality.
“Getting these results for Australian women will be achieved through collaboration,” he said.
“They’ll be achieved through listening, they’ll be achieved by acting together, they won’t be achieved by dividing Australians and setting them apart.”
Mr Morrison said Marise Payne would become “effectively … the Prime Minister for Women”.
“These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up while maintaining the momentum and the continuity and the stability that Australia needs,” he said.
Ms Payne said the overhaul would bring a “gender equality lens” to cabinet after an “extraordinarily challenging, confronting and difficult” few weeks.
“This puts that focus at the heart of government and around every single cabinet table discussion whenever the cabinet meets and across the broader ministry,” she said.
Ms Payne, who has faced heavy criticism for her response to the allegations plaguing the government, rejected suggestions she had been “invisible” during the crisis.
“The only way to address and respond as a parliament to these issues … was to own the problems, was to own the failings and ultimately to own the solution,” she said.
The latest reshuffle was triggered after Mr Morrison received advice from the Solicitor-General that there was a perceived conflict of interest if Mr Porter – who has denied historical rape allegations made against him – stayed in the role of Australia’s first law officer.
Mr Porter has been moved to the Industry, Science and Technology portfolio, previously held by Karen Andrews.
“I’ve spoken about this to Mr Porter over the course of these last few weeks when he’s been on mental health leave,” Mr Morrison said.
“This fully addresses all the issues that relate to the advice received from the Solicitor-General … He’s a very capable minister, and I’m sure he’ll apply his considerable talents to that portfolio to the best of his abilities.”
Despite the demotion, Mr Morrison confirmed he expected Mr Porter to remain in politics beyond the next election.
He said the new role would give Mr Porter opportunities to focus on his WA electorate.
Senator Reynolds, who is on leave due to a pre-existing heart condition, was criticised for her handling of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ rape allegations.
She has become the Government Services and NDIS Minister, replacing Stuart Robert.
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been promoted to Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister after acting in the role during Mr Porter’s absence.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has moved to Defence and has been replaced by Industry, Science and Technology Minister Minister Karen Andrews.
“I want to thank Peter very much for the hard road he has had in that portfolio I have some knowledge and understanding of it,” he said.
“ (Ms Andrews) is a woman of great talent of great experience and great practicality.”
Mr Dutton has also replaced Mr Porter as the government’s leader of the house.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston has taken on an additional role, the Minister for Women’s Safety, while senator Jane Hume has become the new Minister for Women’s Economic Security.
They will be rejoined by Melissa Price in cabinet, which has been expanded to include the Defence Industry portfolio.
It comes after Mr Morrison’s approval ratings plummeted in a new opinion poll, following intense scrutiny of his leadership on the issue of treatment towards women at Parliament House.
But the Prime Minister insisted he “always wanted to ensure there is a strong voice of women” in cabinet, saying Monday’s announcement set a “new benchmark” for female participation in cabinet.
“Previously there was six women in my cabinet. That was also a pretty high mark compared to previous governments,” he said.
Government Services and NDIS Minister Stuart Robert has replaced Ms Cash as Minister for Employment workforce Skills, Small and Family Business.
“He will be a key participant in the government’s economic recovery strategy,” Mr Morrison said.
“Workforce is a big piece of our economic puzzle that we must get firmly in place.”
The Prime Minister said Mr Robert had done an “outstanding job” in the role, which he assumed despite a series of scandals.
“When someone does a good job like that, then that they show that they can take on responsibility,” he said.