The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has attempted to circumvent a political crisis engulfing the Coalition over its treatment of women by unveiling a new front bench aimed at elevating the female “perspective”.
Morrison said on Monday the reshuffle would “shake up what needs to be shaken up” and provide a “fresh lens” to achieve change for women, but he defied calls to dump ministers Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds from the front bench, with the pair to remain in cabinet in new portfolios.
Porter, the outgoing attorney general, has faced calls to stand down to allow an independent investigation into an historical rape allegation that he denies. Reynolds, the outgoing defence minister, has come under fire for her handling of the Brittany Higgins rape allegation and for calling her former staffer a “lying cow”.
In an attempt to draw a line under the rolling crisis that has seen a series of sexual assault and misconduct cases come to light, Morrison has announced he will establish a new taskforce for women, while restoring the number of women in cabinet to seven out of 23.
The taskforce will deal with women’s equality, safety and economic wellbeing, and will be chaired by Morrison and the minister for women, Marise Payne. It will include all of the government’s female ministers.
“This is about getting the right input,” Morrison told reporters.
“This is about getting the right perspective. It’s about getting that lens on the policy challenges that we’re facing and the policy development and delivery work that needs to be undertaken.
“What we must do is address the government’s agenda with the changes that we are making, and to do so with a fresh lens and a fresh lens in particular to achieving the outcomes, the results that we all want for Australian women right across the country. These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up while maintaining the momentum and the continuity and the stability that Australia needs.”
The prime minister said he did not believe change would be achieved through “conflict” and setting Australians apart.
Western Australian senator Michaelia Cash will take on Porter’s former role of attorney general and industrial relations minister, while Queensland MP Karen Andrews will take on the home affairs portfolio formerly held by Peter Dutton who moves to defence.
Porter said he accepted he needed to stand down from the attorney general’s role given he had launched defamation proceedings against the ABC.
“Accepting and understanding that commencing defamation proceedings against the ABC now requires my replacement as attorney general does not change anything in respect of the crucial principle that required me to instigate defamation proceedings,” Porter, who is due to return to work on Wednesday, said in a statement.
“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.”
Dutton, who held the home affairs portfolio since 2017, will become the sixth person to be defence minister in the past eight years. Stuart Robert takes on the role of employment, skills and small business.
Melissa Price, who was dumped as environment minister after the last election, returns to cabinet while maintaining her existing defence industry portfolio.
Reynolds, who has been on medical leave, will stay in cabinet but take on the domestic portfolio of government services and the NDIS, while Porter will take on industry, science and technology.
Morrison will also boost cabinet minister Anne Ruston’s role – adding women’s safety to her existing social services portfolio and elevating her to the government’s leadership team as manager of government business in the Senate.
In the outer ministry, Victorian senator Jane Hume will add women’s economic security to her existing financial services role and Queensland senator Amanda Stoker will become assistant minister for women.