Scott Morrison has fuelled speculation to boot Attorney-General Christian Porter to the backbench or a new portfolio. At the same time, he fights a defamation battle against the ABC and moves Defence Minister Linda Reynolds from her portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle.
The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on Mr. Porter’s future in Parliament on Wednesday after asking Labor leader Anthony Albanese if he would “drop him completely”.
Mr. Morrison again confirmed he was carefully considering legal advice about Mr. Porter over potential conflicts of interests arising from his legal battle with the national broadcaster over historical rape allegations.
Over the last 24 hours, the Prime Minister has made plain he was considering carefully ministerial guidelines about Mr. Porter’s position, raising questions over whether he will be asked to stand aside or move to a different portfolio until the legal tussle is resolved.
Mr. Porter announced he was going on mental health leave at a press conference on March 3. He has previously indicated that he will return to work with reduced responsibilities on March 30 to avoid conflicts of interest over the defamation action.
During that press conference, he vehemently denied a historical allegation that he raped a 16-year-old girl while he was a teenager. Asked bluntly by Labor leader Anthony Albanese if he planned to dump Mr. Porter, the PM declined to rule the option out. “Is the Prime Minister preparing to make his Attorney-General a part-time minister, or is he preparing to drop him altogether?’’ Mr. Albanese asked.
In response, the Prime Minister said that Mr. Porter’s future role and responsibilities in his existing portfolio if he remains in the position now all hinged on the legal advice under consideration.
“I am considering that advice with my department secretary, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the application against the ministerial guidelines, and when I have concluded that assessment, Mr. Speaker, I’ll decide, and I’ll make an announcement at that time,’’ he said.
The remarks have been widely interpreted as suggesting the Prime Minister is considering a cabinet reshuffle that could include moving Defence Minister Linda Reynolds out of the portfolio after her reputation was rocked over the fallout from rape allegations in her office. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, long speculated as a potential Defence Minister, is tipped as the leading position.