Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will remain on sick leave for another month, amid calls for her to resign or be dumped from her portfolio by the Prime Minister.
The extended absence means she will miss the next fortnight of parliamentary sittings in Canberra, as well as the forensic scrutiny and interrogation often experienced during Senate estimates hearings.
Senator Reynolds was admitted to hospital almost a fortnight ago to receive treatment for a pre-existing heart condition, after a fortnight of sustained criticism of her handling of a rape allegation by a former staff member.
Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by a colleague in Senator Reynolds’s ministerial office in 2019, and has criticised the Minister and her staff for failing to provide adequate support to her in the aftermath.
Senator Reynolds broke down in Parliament under questioning from the Opposition about her handling of the incident, and was admitted to hospital soon after.
She was expected to return to work tomorrow.
“On Tuesday March 2 Senator Reynolds was re-assessed by her cardiologist in relation to a pre-existing medical condition, which had earlier required her to take a brief period of leave,” her office said in a statement.
“The day after that consultation Senator Reynolds was issued a medical certificate which extended her leave until April 2.
“Senator Reynolds has advised Prime Minister Scott Morrison of her doctor’s assessment and will continue to consult with the Prime Minister as required.”
Her office said she was “recuperating well”, and was looking forward to returning.
But the extended absence will likely further fuel speculation about Senator Reynolds’s future in Mr Morrison’s Cabinet.
Last week, Senator Reynolds was forced to issue an apology after The Australian newspaper reported she had labelled Ms Higgins a “lying cow” after she went public with her rape allegation.
On Sunday, Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally questioned whether she was fit to remain in the role, despite wishing her well in her recovery.
“Is the minister for defence, Linda Reynolds, trying to pretend that she’s well enough, on the one hand, to continue as Defence Minister but not well enough on the other to front up and answer questions in Parliament?” Senator Keneally asked.
“To be defence minister, to be any minister, you need good judgment and sound character. What we have seen from Linda Reynolds is that she has neither.
“Linda Reynolds’s position is untenable. She should make that decision today and she should go, and if she won’t then the Prime Minister Scott Morrison should show leadership.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne remains acting Defence Minister.