Former Attorney-General Christian Porter is taking over as Minister for Industry, Science and Technology in a cabinet reshuffle that follows six weeks of scandal, frustration, and anger about the treatment of women in Australian politics.
Porter will become the fifth person to hold the portfolio in five-and-a-half years.
Since his emotional press conference four weeks ago, Porter has been on mental health leave.
The 50-year-old launched a defamation suit against the ABC and Four Corners reporter Louise Milligan claiming original reporting about the allegation – in which Porter was not directly named – left him easily identifiable.
In a statement, Porter recognised that his lawsuit against the public broadcaster “requires [his] replacement as Attorney-General”.
“Given the false claims made about me by the ABC, I had no alternative but to launch the defamation proceedings and I have no regrets about taking that course of action,” he said.
The economic recovery from COVID-19 will be Porter’s priority in his new STEM-focused portfolio, with manufacturing an apparent focus of his.
“The opportunities created by Australia’s strong focus on the science and technology sectors will be crucial to making sure that we are building the industries of the future with the long-term sustainable employment these sectors can provide,” he said.
Christian Porter has been parked in the industry, science and technology portfolio. Image: ABC News (James Carmody)
Across the aisle, Labor announced via the media late Monday night it would create a $15 billion fund to boost local manufacturing if it wins the next election.
Porter’s replacement as Attorney-General is fellow Western Australian, Michaelia Cash.
Karen Andrews, who held the tech portfolio since 2019, has been promoted to Home Affairs – formerly the position of Peter Dutton who takes over the Defence portfolio from Linda Reynolds.
Reynolds will become the new Minister for Government Services, a portfolio containing the Digital Transformation Agency and which formerly belonged to Stuart Robert – who presided over the government’s disastrous ‘robodebt’ recovery scheme and famously cried cyber wolf when the MyGov crashed from high demand last year.
Reynolds herself has been plagued by scandal stemming from her treatment of former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins who in February came forward about alleged rape inside Parliament House two years ago.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to move Porter and Reynolds in these technology roles has raised questions about the government’s vision for a technology driven Australia given its penchant for outsourcing multimillion-dollar projects to lobbyist consultant firms and building expensive products no one uses.
Morrison announced the ministerial changes on Monday, putting more women in senior front bench positions in a bid to stem the tide of waning public opinion since Higgins went public with her allegations, opening a national conversation about the treatment of women in Australian politics.
The public discussion has since dominated the news cycle and led to thousands of people marching in cities across the country calling for an end to violence against women and sexism.
Most recently, Liberal MP Andrew Laming was told he would not contest in the next election – but did not have to resign – because of online abuse and a photograph he took of a woman on all-fours stacking a fridge in which her underwear was apparently visible.
When asked about Laming in Monday’s reshuffle press conference Marise Payne, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Women, said politicians across the world had a “responsibility” for the way they engage with the public and each other.
“If nothing else, the last few months has taught us the importance of that and the importance of doing that respectfully,” she said.