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Australian PM Reshuffles Cabinet Amid Sexual Misconduct Scandals

In this Feb. 10, 2020, file photo, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a joint statement with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has reshuffled his cabinet in response to a series of sexual misconduct scandals that have rocked his ruling Liberal Party.

Morrison announced Monday in the country’s capital, Canberra, that Michaelia Cash will replace Christian Potter as attorney-general, while Peter Dutton will assume the defense portfolio from Linda Reynolds.

Potter has been on mental health leave ever since reports surfaced several weeks ago that he was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when he was 17 years old, an allegation Potter denies. Police have announced they will not bring any charges against Potter since his accuser has since died.

Reynolds came under intense criticism when she called a former female staff member, Brittany Higgins, “a lying cow” after Higgins publicly came forward with allegations that she had been raped by a senior staffer in Parliament House in 2019. Reynolds said she was not referring to Higgins’ allegations, but the description of how she was treated after coming forward. Reynolds later apologized for her comments.

Both Potter and Reynolds have been reassigned new positions in Morrison’s cabinet. The scandals prompted mass rallies across Australia in late February with protesters demanding an end to sexual violence against women.

In addition to the scandals involving Potter and Reynolds, the conservative Liberal Party has been hit with recent news reports alleging several male staffers had filmed themselves performing sex acts in Parliament House, including on the desk of at least one female lawmaker, and shared the images on a special Facebook group chat page.

Along with the cabinet reshuffling, Prime Minister Morrison says he was starting a new Cabinet task force that will address issues of women’s equality, safety, economic security, health and wellbeing. Morrison will head the task force along with Marisa Payne, the minister for women.

Morrison’s approval rating had dropped by seven points, while another recent poll shows his Liberal Party trailing the opposition Labor Party by just four points.