Scott Morrison bats away questions about Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds’s sick leave



Prime Minister Scott Morrison has batted away questions about whether he is concerned both his Attorney-General Christian Porter and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds are on leave at the same time.

Mr Morrison said he was not concerned that the two ministers, who both also sit on the National Security Committee, would miss next week’s sitting week.

Mr Porter is on leave after revealing last week he was the Cabinet minister at the centre of a historical rape allegation, which he strenuously denies.

An anonymous letter sent to the Prime Minister accused Mr Porter of raping a 16-year-old girl in Sydney in 1988, long before he entered politics.

The woman in question approached NSW Police early last year, but in June she contacted them to say she did not want to take her complaint any further.

She took her own life the next day, after suffering mental illness for a large part of her life. There is no way of knowing what caused her mental health issues. She never made a formal statement to police about the allegation.

NSW Police have declared the matter closed, saying there is “insufficient admissible evidence” to pursue it.

“I’ve spoken to Christian, as have many colleagues in providing their support,” Mr Morrison said.

“At this stage he hasn’t advised the date he’s returning.

“I don’t anticipate him to be back in Parliament next week, but he’ll give me further updates as we go.”

Mr Morrison was again asked whether he believed Mr Porter.

“I believe in the presumption of innocence and the rule of law and he’s entitled to that,” the Prime Minister said.

And he again ruled out holding any independent inquiry into the allegation.

“The competent and authorised agencies, through the police and the court system, that’s what determines these matters at the end of the day.

Senator Reynolds announced over the weekend that she would extend her medical leave until the beginning of April after being reassessed by her cardiologist.

The extended absence means not only will she miss the next sitting fortnight, she will also not appear before Senate estimates, where ministers are subject to scrutiny and interrogation.

The senator was admitted to hospital a fortnight ago to receive treatment for a pre-existing heart condition, amid sustained criticism of aspects of her handling of a rape allegation made by former staffer Brittany Higgins.

Senator Reynolds has already apologised for holding an initial meeting with Ms Higgins in the same room where the alleged rape occurred, and made emotional statements to the Parliament about the actions she took in response.

“At all times to me, Brittany’s welfare and her right to privacy were paramount,” Senator Reynolds said last month.

A woman with short brown hair and glasses wearing a bright red jacket mid-sentence in the Senate behind a microphone
Linda Reynolds will not return from leave until after the next sitting fortnight.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

She said her office moved quickly to ensure “that Brittany was given full access to the police”.

“I am deeply sorry that Brittany felt unsupported at the time of the incident and in the months that followed, and in fact the years that followed.”

Last week Senator Reynolds apologised to Ms Higgins after it was revealed she had called her a “lying cow” in response to media reports on the day Ms Higgins went public with her allegations.

Ms Reynolds said she had never questioned Ms Higgins’ account of her alleged sexual assault and had always sought to respect her agency in the matter.

Mr Morrison said Australians should not be concerned two of his senior ministers were away, saying he had “highly competent ministers” who were taking over their duties.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash will act as the Attorney-General, while Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne will fill in for Senator Reynolds.

“I’m just very pleased that in the case where we’ve had two ministers who have had to stand down for health reasons, I can turn to two very good other female Cabinet ministers who can confidently take up their jobs,” Mr Morrison said.


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