/ 08 March 2021

Government sidetracked by ministers’ leave

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds will remain on sick leave for the entirety of March. A pre-existing heart condition saw her admitted to hospital in Canberra on 24 February following scrutiny of her handling of a rape allegation by former staff member Brittany Higgins, and she was due to return to work today. Attorney-General Christian Porter became the second minister in the Morrison Government to take leave in recent weeks – he said he needed a fortnight off to seek help after he was accused of raping an unnamed woman in 1988 when they were teenagers.

They’re both senior ministers with a lot on their plates. And while even the government’s critics say the ministers should take the time they need to look after their health, it’s not without problems on the work front. But both are on the National Security Committee, and both have significant portfolio issues on the boil. Reynolds, who apologised to her former staffer on Friday for calling her a “lying cow”, will miss Estimates hearings when senators get to ask the minister and officials some uncomfortable questions. That led Labor Senator Kristina Keneally to ask if she was “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?” Meanwhile, Porter, who is also the Industrial Relations minister, was to negotiate the government’s new IR policy pathway through the Senate in the hope of having it passed by the middle of this month. That now looks unlikely, despite acting minister Michaelia Cash’s hustling

Exactly where we left you last week. Advocates for an inquiry into the claims continue to press their case, and PM Scott Morrison hasn’t changed his view that it’s not possible outside the legal system. Reports this morning say there is growing hope the South Australian coroner will launch an inquiry into the woman’s death, including from PM Scott Morrison and Coalition MPs. Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins yesterday told ABC TV’s Insiders that there needs to be a look at things, including “whether the justice system, including the police, meet the needs of victims … and get the justice that I think we all expect.” Jenkins has been commissioned by the Morrison Government to conduct a review into the handling and prevention of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints for parliamentary staffers.

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