Attorney-General Christian Porter, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds face cabinet reshuffle

Scott Morrison has fuelled speculation that he may boot Attorney-General Christian Porter to the backbench or a new portfolio while he fights a defamation battle against the ABC, and move 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 he was asked by 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 in relation to 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 any conflicts of interest over the defamation action.

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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 all together?’’ 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 role now all hinged on the legal advice that was 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 make a determination 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 candidate for the role.

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Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who recently settled a defamation action after referring to her former staffer Brittany Higgins as a “lying cow”, is also expected to be moved on.

Ms Reynolds has taken extended leave over a heart condition that prompted her to spend two nights in hospital at the height of the controversy, allowing her to skip Parliament.

The Australian reported on Wednesday that she was “wining and dining” with friends at an Italian restaurant in regional NSW about an hour’s drive from Canberra.

Ms Reynolds was at the restaurant in the leafy NSW town of Goulburn on Thursday when Liberal MP Julian Leeser stumbled across her.

“She’s getting better,” Liberal MP Julian Leeser said.

“[Reynolds] was having dinner with a friend and I joined them for a bowl of pasta. It’s entirely reasonable, people have to eat, and she should be able to share a quiet meal with friends.

“She needs to be close to her cardiologist and that’s why she has been staying in Goulburn with her friends”.

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