Porter, Reynolds will ‘continue in my cabinet’: PM
Scott Morrison has confirmed Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will remain in cabinet.
It comes after growing speculation of a cabinet reshuffle with ongoing scandals engulfing Porter and Reynolds.
Speaking to A Current Affair on Thursday night, the Prime Minister said both ministers would "continue to play a very important role in my cabinet".
Mr Morrison didn't rule out moving the embattled ministers to different portfolios.
"When I make judgments about those things I will announce them," he said.
He added: "I am working through those issues now. One is on mental health leave and the other is on physical health leave. Linda in particular, had a very serious coronary condition."
Both ministers have been on medical leave over recent weeks after Ms Reynolds claimed to have called Brittany Higgins a "lying cow" after she alleged she was raped at Parliament House in 2019 during her employment with the minister, and Mr Porter confirmed he was at the centre of a historic rape allegation dating back to 1988.
Mr Porter has strenuously denied the claims and is now suing the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan for their coverage of the story.
The legal action means Mr Morrison has stripped Mr Porter of a number of his key responsibilities as the Attorney-General in a bid to avoid a conflict of interest and sought legal advice from the solicitor-general on the matter.
Speaking to ABC AM radio on Thursday morning, Mr Morrison said "I'm working through those issues with the lawyer at the moment. He's not returning to work for some reason, another week or so yet, and that will be done in time after his return."
Mr Morrison also said he has sought legal advice "in terms of the ministerial code of conduct which also deals with perceived conflicts of interest."
Michaelia Cash, who is filling in for Mr Porter, is the leading candidate to take over as the Attorney-General if a change is made, while Peter Dutton has long been touted to replace Senator Reynolds in the defence portfolio.
TRACY GRIMSHAW'S TOUGH QUESTION FOR PM
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been grilled about how he could not have known the depth of the issues faced by women during a heated interview with Tracy Grimshaw on A Current Affair.
During the 30-minute sit down aired on Thursday night, the Prime Minister was questioned about the government's handling of allegations involving former Liberal Staffer Brittany Higgins and historic rape allegations made about Attorney-General Christian Porter, which are strongly denied.
When the PM said he had been trying to understand the outrage being felt by women Grimshaw bluntly asked him: "where have you been?"
"If you are saying you have been aware of the enormity of this issue preceding Brittany Higgins coming out a month ago, if you'd been aware of it," Grimshaw began to say.
"At a different level," Mr Morrison said.
"This has taken me deeper into this issue than I have appreciated before."
"You have lived with it every day, you have lived with it I'm sure your whole life."
"But you're not on an island," Grimshaw responded.
"Or maybe you're in a bubble, you must know, you've got a wife you love, you've got daughters … how did you not know the depth of it?"
Mr Morrison said he, like many men in the country, had a different experience with the issue.
"This is the difficult part of this. You understand it in a way that only you could. I have a different experience to yours as do many men in this country."
"It was truly shocking that this could take place here (in Parliament House) to a young woman who had worked so hard.
"We look at these things and go 'how could such acts of (alleged) violence take place?'
"We are now starting to get beyond this issue where we see it most, in the most violent and other most obvious forms.
"I may not have always got it as much as people would like me to, but I assure you, I am doing everything I can to understand it as best I can."
Thousands of people across the nation called for action against gendered violence in parliament after Ms Higgins came out about her alleged rape.
The Prime Minister did not attend the historic rally but said he would meet organisers "in private".
"I treated that protest the same way I have treated other protests and provided respectful opportunities for people to meet and talk seriously about this issue in the office of the Prime Minister," he told Grimshaw.
He revealed he had not directly been in contact with Ms Higgins since she had spoken out but insisted his public apology was sincere.
Mr Morrison told Grimshaw he would be willing to meet with Ms Higgins but she had not asked to speak with him.
"She hasn't expressed an interest in doing that with me but she is very welcome to," he said.
The Prime Minister also said Defence Minister Linda Reynolds' comments calling Ms Higgins "a lying cow" were "disgraceful" and "out of character".
HIGGINS HITS PM'S OFFICE WITH FORMAL COMPLAINT
Brittany Higgins has filed a formal complaint with Scott Morrison's chief of staff over claims his staff briefed against her partner, which the Prime Minister has refused to confirm.
Ms Higgins, who alleged she was raped in a ministerial office within Parliament House in 2019, has written to the PM's chief of staff John Kunkel over claims the PMO's media team backgrounded against her partner.
She has lodged a formal complaint over the allegation, which she said had been raised with her by multiple journalists from various news outlets.
"In the days following my interview with The Project regarding my experience in Parliament House, I was made aware by numerous journalists about the backgrounding that was happening against my partner," it read.
"To my knowledge, this was being done by staff within the Prime Minister's media team."
It comes after the Prime Minister refused on Thursday to rule out his staff backgrounding against Ms Higgins' partner, but said "no one" had raised the concerns with his chief of staff.
"There has been no one in the gallery, nothing has been raised with my office from anyone in the gallery making any of those accusations or any discomfort about anything that my office has done," he told ABC Radio.
"People make allegations all the time second, third-hand. But there's no one who has raised that with my chief of staff out of the gallery, no."
PM OPENS UP ON 'SLUT-SHAMING' LETTER
Scott Morrison says there is no new evidence in a letter sent to him by the Tasmanian Premier, urging him to consider whether senator Eric Abetz slut-shamed Brittany Higgins.
Tasmanian Speaker Sue Hickey used parliamentary privilege to claim Mr Abetz said Ms Higgins was "disgustingly drunk" and could have "slept with anybody" when she was allegedly raped.
Mr Abetz has denied the claim.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein confirmed on Wednesday that Ms Hickey had raised the allegation with him weeks ago and had written to the Prime Minister urging him to "consider" the matter.
But Mr Morrison said the letter contained no new evidence.
"He doesn't corroborate or confirm any of these things. He's just simply mentioned this matter to me," Mr Morrison told ABC Radio on Thursday.
"He's just raised the matter and said it was raised with him."
Ms Hickey also alleged she asked Mr Abetz whether the cabinet minister at the centre of an historical rape allegation was Attorney-General Christian Porter and was told "not to worry" because the alleged victim had died.
Mr Morrison said although both comments would be "completely appalling", it would be "very unfair" to draw conclusions with the facts in such dispute.
"I was not a party to the conversation … Senator Abetz's complete denial of that I think is a very strong one," he said.
"He's a longstanding figure in public life and has a strong record when it comes to addressing these issues very seriously. (He) has absolutely denied that."
But Labor frontbencher Tony Burke called for an investigation into the claim, saying the government could not move on the basis of a denial alone.
"If that's meant to be the end of the matter then we haven't moved one millimetre throughout these last two months," he told Sky News.
Ms Hickey made the allegation after being informed she would not be preselected at the next state election.
Mr Abetz strenuously "categorically denied" the allegation on Wednesday, telling Sky News the claim could be an act of political vengeance.
"Given my history in these matters, I would never have said words that have now been described to me by Ms Hickey. They are repulsive," he said.
"One can expect or suspect that the only reason is that she's brought this up three weeks later because the Premier on Sunday showed her the door from the Liberal Party because of her gross disloyalty and lack of teamsmanship."
LINDA REYNOLDS WITHDRAWS FROM TOP DEFENCE FORUM
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has pulled out of a high-profile forum next month as a cloud hangs over the future of her role.
The Senator was due to attend the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi on April 13, but her office confirmed she would no longer be attending, the ABC reports. A reason for her withdrawal has not been provided.
Since its inception in 2016, the annual conference on geopolitics and geo-economics is"committed to addressing the most challenging issues facing the global community", according to its website.
Australia's Chief of Defence Angus Campbell and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne are listed as speakers at the event.
Senator Reynolds was admitted to hospital on February 24 because of a pre-existing heart condition.
The dramatic turn of events came after her former staffer, Brittany Higgins, went public with allegations that she was raped by a former colleague in the minister's office in March 2019.
Earlier this month, Senator Reynolds announced she would remain on leave until April 2 following doctors' advice.
'LARGE POOL OF PEOPLE' EXPECTED TO FRONT INQUIRY
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says she expects "a large pool of people" to front an inquiry sparked by the Higgins' allegations.
Jenkins, in charge of investigating workplace culture at Parliament House, said current and former politicians and staff including those employed in the Parliament's cafes and gardens could make submissions.
"We know this is a diverse workplace and it does include those parliamentary staffers, but it also includes gardeners, it includes cafe staff, it includes security people so we will be open to encouraging contributions from any of those people," she said at a Senate estimates on Tuesday night.
"We realise there's a potential for that to be a large pool of people and we're ready for that," she said.
SECURITY GUARD 'FOUND BRITTANY HIGGINS NAKED'
A Parliament House security guard says she found Brittany Higgins naked in the office of then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds on the night the former Liberal staffer was allegedly raped.
Security guard Nikola Anderson told the ABC's Four Corners program that Ms Higgins was clearly intoxicated when she entered the building around 2am with the man who is alleged to have raped her in March 2019.
Ms Anderson said around 3am she and a colleague notified the night shift team leader "there might've been something a bit strange going on" after the man Ms Higgins was with left in a hurry and appeared to be "acting strangely".
She was then asked by her team leader to do a welfare check on Ms Higgins.
"As I approached Minister Reynolds office, I opened the door and announced myself. So, yelling, 'Security. Hello. Security, security' … just so that she was aware that I was there," she said.
"I got no response whatsoever," Ms Anderson told Four Corners.
Ms Anderson told Four Corners she then pushed open the office door.
"As I've opened the door, I've noticed that the female was lying on her back, completely naked, on the lounge that was adjacent to the door, for which I've gone, 'Oh'," she told Four Corners.
Ms Anderson thought Ms Higgins was "just sleeping off her night" and told Four Corners she "made sure her dignity was intact" by closing the door.
"I made sure her dignity was intact by shutting this door … I was trying to do the right thing by keeping her dignity intact," she told Four Corners.
PARLIAMENT PROBE SENSATIONALLY SUSPENDED
An independent probe into which members of the Prime Minister's office knew about the Brittany Higgins rape allegation has been suspended.
The federal opposition has been grilling the government over the findings of an inquiry run by Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Phil Gaetjens.
It investigated the government's response to Ms Higgins's claim she was raped in Parliament House in 2019. The claim is also the subject of an Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation.
In a Senate estimates hearing on Monday, Mr Gaetjens said he was advised by AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw on March 9 to hold off finalising records of interviews with staff.
"I was strongly advised … to make sure that there was no intersection with the criminal investigation, and as a result, I have decided to pause the inquiry," Mr Gaetjens said.
"As a result I have put on hold the process of finalising documentation of my inquiries and the preparation of a report to the Prime Minister.
"Both the commissioner and I are concerned that we do nothing that could prejudice the outcome of the police investigation."
Mr Gaetjens said he told Mr Morrison on March 9 when staff in the Prime Minister's office also became aware.
But last week Mr Morrison told the parliament that Mr Gaetjens had "not provided me with a further update about when I might expect that report".
Originally published as Porter, Reynolds will 'continue in my cabinet': PM