Christian Porter could be dumped as attorney-general as early as this weekend, with Scott Morrison “considering” the embattled minister’s position in the face of mounting legal concerns clouding his ability to remain as the nation’s first law officer.
Separately, questions around Defence Minister Linda Reynolds continue to swirl, with her botched handling of rape allegations from her former staffer Brittany Higgins and a perceived fumbling of several critical portfolio issues prompting talk she too could be facing the sack or a demotion.
Peter Dutton, Michaelia Cash and Stuart Robert are among those long-spoken of as being in line for promotion if one or both the embattled Western Australian ministers quit.
Some have suggested the reshuffle could be announced this weekend, following the end of this parliamentary sitting week and with a seven-week break before Parliament returns for the federal budget in May.
The government has sought legal advice from the federal solicitor-general on whether Mr Porter could feasibly carry out his duties as attorney-general while also mounting a defamation action against the ABC’s reporting on rape allegations against him.
Mr Porter denies the allegations, but Labor has claimed his pending legal action made it inappropriate for him to hold nearly all his attorney-general responsibilities.
The Opposition called his position “hopelessly conflicted”.
On Wednesday, Mr Morrison gave his clearest signal yet that Mr Porter’s planned return as Attorney-General next week may not be assured, when he stopped short of endorsing the Member for Pearce.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese asked if the PM was “preparing to make his Attorney-General a part-time minister or is he preparing to drop him altogether”.
Mr Morrison only gave a brief one-sentence response, referring to the solicitor-general’s legal advice.
“I am considering that advice with my department secretary, in terms of the application against the ministerial guidelines and when I have concluded that assessment, I’ll make a determination and I’ll make an announcement at that time,” the PM said.
On Monday, Mr Morrison had told journalists that he was considering Mr Porter’s future in the lens of the ministerial standards, and that “I will be making further decisions on that matter”.
Mr Porter, currently on mental health leave after the rape allegations levelled against him, is scheduled to return to work next week. Senator Reynolds is also on medical leave, related to a heart condition and medication, and was set to return on April 2.
But multiple reports on Wednesday night suggested that Mr Morrison may be preparing to reshuffle his ministry to move both out of their current roles.
Senator Reynolds has been under pressure internally for some time, long before her much-criticised response to Ms Higgins’ allegations she was raped by a co-worker on the couch in the senator’s Parliament House office in 2019.
As defence minister, Senator Reynolds has been heavily criticised over her handling of issues including the Brereton report into alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan, and massive cost blow-outs on a submarine program that may now cost upwards of $90 billion.
Mr Dutton, currently the minister for home affairs, has long been spoken of as having aspirations to become defence minister. Mr Robert, the minister for government services, is a strong ally to Mr Morrison, and could be promoted to home affairs minister.
If Mr Porter is moved on as attorney-general, Senator Cash – currently acting in that role in his absence – could be a simple replacement.
Senior government sources spoken to by The New Daily on Wednesday night would not confirm the reports, but also did not deny that changes may be afoot.
However, many in the Coalition have spoken of their concern that Senator Reynolds could be the only political ‘scalp’ of the current reckoning around sexual assault and misconduct in politics.
Multiple government sources say it would stoke public outrage if one of the most senior women in the government was the only prominent figure to face significant repercussions or demotion.