Australian PM Morrison aims to promote more women amid reshuffle speculation

Protesters gather during the Women's March 4 Justice in Brisbane on March 15, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he wants to promote more women to his ministry amid speculation he's preparing a Cabinet reshuffle to ease a backlash over sexual assault and harassment allegations plaguing his government.

"What I want to see is more women in Parliament," Morrison told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Thursday (March 25). "And I want to see more women in my ministry."

Currently, 16 lawmakers in his 22-person Cabinet are men.

The government's poll ratings have fallen amid criticism of its handling of rape allegations and lack of progress in addressing equality issues. Tens of thousands of protesters have taken part in rallies across the nation demanding greater female representation in parliament and tough action against sexual violence and discrimination.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce as early as Friday that Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds - who are both on medical leave - will be moved out of their roles, according to the Australian Financial Review.

Morrison has said he's open to introducing quotas within his Liberal Party to raise the percentage of female lawmakers - currently 23 per cent. On Thursday, he said he's working through a report submitted to the government last year into sexual harassment in the workplace. The document's 55 recommendations so far largely haven't been implemented.

Reynolds is on medical leave amid criticism of the government's handling of allegations that her former staffer Brittany Higgins was sexually assaulted by a colleague in March 2019. While Reynolds urged her to report the incident to the police, Higgins has told media she felt she had not been adequately supported by the government.

Porter is the subject of allegations that he raped a fellow school debating team member in the 1980s - claims he vigorously denies. Police aren't pursuing the case due to a lack of admissible evidence, and Porter is suing the ABC for defamation.

Morrison has declined to comment on speculation that he will reshuffle his Cabinet. But he has said he is considering advice on whether Porter's defamation case against the national broadcaster creates a conflict of interest.

The sexual assault allegations have now spread beyond the federal Parliament. On Thursday, a lawmaker in the New South Wales state Parliament said he was stepping aside while police investigate allegations he raped a woman in 2019 - claims he denies.

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