Two Australian ministers were demoted from top cabinet posts on Monday as the ruling Conservative party tried to draw a line under double rape scandals that have spun national politics.
Linda Reynolds was removed as Secretary of Defense and Christian Porter as Attorney General, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison bowed for weeks with increasing public pressure.
Porter – the government’s chief legal officer and a former prosecutor – is accused of raping a 16-year-old fellow student in 1988, an accusation he denies.
The woman died in June last year, according to information from suicide.
Reynolds was accused of handling an investigation into the alleged rape of a young staff member in her parliamentary office and referring to the woman as a “lying cow”.
Both ministers have been on leave for several weeks, and Morrison previously insisted they return to their jobs.
Now both will remain in government and manage less coveted portfolios of government services for Reynolds and industry, science and technology for Porter.
During the change, Morrison also announced a series of campaigns for women, saying it was “the strongest female representation ever in an Australian cabinet.”
It remains to be seen whether the move will be sufficient to allay a basis for public anger over the pervasive culture of bullying, harassment and sexual violence, especially in government.
The allegations against Porter and Reynolds sparked protests across Australia, with tens of thousands of women taking to the streets to demand equality and an end to sexual violence.
In the weeks since the rape allegations surfaced, Morrison’s coalition government has been shaken by a litany of new sexual assaults and harassment – from an employee photographed masturbating at a parliamentary desk, to a state MP accused of raping a sex worker to another MP for harassing women online.
A Morrison media flash aimed at showing empathy for women has only contributed to the furore through a series of mistakes.
The 52-year-old Prime Minister has at least one year left in his current term, but has seen the crisis erode some popularity from Australia’s solid handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country has only isolated cases of transmission of society and life has largely returned to normal.
An opinion poll by Newspoll in mid-March showed that Morrison’s liberal coalition followed the Lab opposition’s center-left 52-48, while other polls showed signs of his support among women.