have since come forward with accusations in the news media against the same man. (He was fired after the alleged attack on Ms. Higgins but has not been publicly identified.)

The women’s collective claims broke the stalemate. Women in Parliament and others who had recently left called for accountability. Tens of thousands of women marched all over Australia on March 4 to demand justice, inspired by Ms. Higgins and angered by accusations against Christian Porter, then the attorney general.

Just a day earlier, as news reports emerged of an unidentified cabinet minister accused of sexual assault, Mr. Porter had named himself as the suspect. He publicly denied the allegation — made by a woman who said he raped her when they were teenagers — and refused to resign.

masturbating onto the desks of female ministers. One of them has been fired.

A Liberal lawmaker was accused of harassing two female constituents. He agreed not to run again and apologized, but Mr. Morrison has come under fire for not making him resign.

Many women are also angry at the prime minister for protecting Mr. Porter, whom he recently moved from his role as attorney general into a new cabinet position.

And more women are resisting a return to business as usual.

Last week, Dr. Anne Webster, a new member of Parliament with the conservative National Party, said a male lawmaker had sexually harassed her. That kind of thing might once have been ignored, but she filed a formal complaint with party leadership, prompting the man to apologize.

“That’s what Australians expect of us now,” she said.

“Inch by inch, culture changes,” she added. “All of us are learning; all of us are adjusting to a new platform.”

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Australian Leader Demotes Lawmakers Amid Scandals

SYDNEY—Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demoted two senior lawmakers as he tried to contain the political fallout from scandals that helped to bring tens of thousands of women out to protest the government’s handling of sexual-assault allegations.

Mr. Morrison said he would increase the number of women in his leadership team and would lead a task force with foreign minister Marise Payne to shape policy on women’s issues, including safety and equality.

The new 23-member cabinet will include seven women, up from six women in the previous 22-person leadership team. Mr. Morrison also committed to promoting more women to other government roles.

Christian Porter will be removed from his position as attorney general, while Linda Reynolds will be removed as defense minister, Mr. Morrison said in a press conference. Both will remain in the cabinet, in lesser roles. The changes follow a crisis within the government that has cast a spotlight on the country’s politics and handling of harassment and sexual-assault complaints.

Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter, shown on March 3 in Perth, will be removed from his post.

Photo: stefan gosatti/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Porter is accused of committing rape 33 years ago, an allegation that he denies. Mr. Porter has said he was 17 in 1988 when the rape is alleged to have taken place, and only briefly knew the complainant. He said she was 16 at the time. The allegation was reported in February by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, or ABC, without naming Mr. Porter, before the attorney general identified himself as the accused.

His accuser died by suicide last year shortly after deciding not to proceed with a police complaint, according to police, who have said there isn’t enough admissible evidence to pursue criminal charges.

Mr. Porter said that he couldn’t continue in the role as attorney general because he has launched defamation proceedings against the ABC, which is fighting the lawsuit. He will be succeeded as attorney general by Michaelia Cash, whose new role as the country’s top law officer includes completing the government’s response to recommendations made last year by a national inquiry into sexual harassment.

The removal of Ms. Reynolds comes several weeks after she called a former female staff member, Brittany Higgins, who had previously made a claim of rape against a former male colleague, a “lying cow.” Ms. Reynolds has apologized and retracted the comment, which she said was made privately. She had previously said the comment referred to the way Ms. Higgins’s claims had been reported in the media, and not her rape allegation.

Mr. Morrison said the decision to move Ms. Reynolds from the position of minister of Defense was based on medical advice, as she has been receiving treatment for a health problem. Ms. Reynolds couldn’t be reached for comment.

“These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up, while maintaining the momentum and the continuity and the stability that Australia needs as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic and recession,” Mr. Morrison said on Monday. Days earlier, he had criticized a “longstanding culture of despicable behavior” in Parliament, and said lawmakers from all parties must fix it.

Mr. Morrison’s initial response to the sexual-assault allegations, such as resisting calls for an independent inquiry into the allegation against Mr. Porter, was criticized as inadequate by protesters who marched in the tens of thousands in cities and towns nationwide over two days this month. The prime minister drew further criticism when he said the women protesting outside Parliament House were fortunate to be doing so in Australia when demonstrations in Myanmar were “being met with bullets.”

Mr. Morrison has taken firmer action on new allegations of sexual misconduct involving Parliamentary staff and lawmakers, which were made in recent days. An unnamed government staff member was fired for committing a lewd act on the desk of a female lawmaker, also unidentified, said Mr. Morrison. Mr. Morrison said Andrew Laming, one of his party’s lawmakers, won’t contest the next election after he was accused of repeatedly harassing two women online. Mr. Laming, who last week apologized in Parliament for his communication with the women, couldn’t be reached for comment on his election plans.

“I acknowledge that many Australians, especially women, believe that I have not heard them, and that greatly distresses me,” Mr. Morrison said in a March 23 press conference. He also said that his language about the protests could have been different, and that he had meant no offense.

An opinion poll released Monday put voters’ satisfaction with Mr. Morrison’s performance at its lowest level in a year, eroding all gains from his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Janine Hendry, a Melbourne-based academic who helped to organize this month’s protests, said it is unclear how the shuffle of Mr. Morrison’s leadership team would stop the abuse of women or address issues such as gender equity.

Mr. Morrison said he expected Mr. Porter to continue serving in his cabinet, including after the next election, which must be held by May 2022. Ms. Reynolds will now be responsible for government services and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a cabinet role.

Marian Sawer, a political scientist and emeritus professor at Australian National University, suggested Parliament introduce a code of conduct, set up an independent body to handle complaints, and conduct mandatory training on how to prevent harassment.

“It’s high time we caught up with comparable Parliaments in Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., that have been quicker to take action on these shared problems,” she said.

Australia has fallen behind other countries in the proportion of women in legislatures. It ranks 50th, alongside Croatia and behind Zimbabwe, for women’s representation, according to data compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, a Geneva-based international organization of national Parliaments. Two decades ago, it had ranked 21st.

Over the past decade, several female leaders, including Julia Gillard, who was the country’s first female prime minister, have called out male colleagues in Parliament for their behavior. On one occasion, Ms. Gillard’s main political opponent stood outside Parliament next to a sign stating “Ditch the Witch.”

Before this month’s protest marches, a conversation was building about sexual assault and misogyny in Australian society. That was partly in evidence when an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, Grace Tame, was named Australian of the Year. The award is bestowed by the National Australia Day Council, a not-for-profit government-owned social enterprise, on a citizen each year as part of the celebrations surrounding Australia Day.

A 2018 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which is funded by the government but operates independently, found that almost one-quarter of Australian women said they had been a victim of rape or attempted rape on at least one occasion.

“I think having a lot of women’s voices in the public domain is positive, and could be a turning point,” said Kristin Diemer, a sociologist and associate professor at the University of Melbourne. “For survivors to have a platform to speak about their experience, I think, is a change in the current situation in Australia.”

Write to Rhiannon Hoyle at rhiannon.hoyle@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Amid Allegations of Rape and Misogyny, Australia’s Leader Demotes 2 Ministers

SYDNEY, Australia — Seeking to address rising anger over allegations of rape and misogyny against members of his government, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia reshuffled his cabinet on Monday, demoting two ministers tied to separate scandals, but keeping them in senior positions.

Defense Minister Linda Reynolds will become the minister for government services, Mr. Morrison said. Attorney General Christian Porter will give up that role while continuing to serve in the cabinet as the minister for science, industry and technology.

Mr. Morrison also announced a new task force on women’s equality, safety, economic security, health and well-being, while adding several women to the cabinet. They include Michaelia Cash, who will become attorney general, and Karen Andrews, who will become minister for home affairs.

“These changes will shake up what needs to be shaken up,” Mr. Morrison said, adding that having more women in the cabinet would bring “a fresh lens” to the government’s challenges.

Brittany Higgins, accused a more senior colleague of raping her in Parliament House in 2019, and three weeks after Mr. Porter was accused of committing rape when he was a teenager.

Mr. Porter has denied the allegation against him and resisted calls for an independent inquiry. Ms. Reynolds has apologized to Ms. Higgins for speaking with her about the alleged assault in the same room where it was said to have occurred, as well as for calling Ms. Higgins a “lying cow” after she went public with her allegations.

The reassignments are unlikely to tamp down the public outrage that has surged in recent weeks, after years in which complaints about Australia’s brutal culture of misogyny in politics were ignored or actively suppressed by the two major parties.

“death spiral.”

he had not read it. After the police dropped a criminal case against Mr. Porter, citing insufficient evidence from an incident alleged to have occurred 33 years ago, Mr. Morrison said the attorney general was still fit for the highest legal office in the country, despite the swirl of distrust surrounding him.

On March 4, when thousands of women protested sexual assault and sexism outside Parliament, Mr. Morrison refused to attend the rally. He later declared it a “triumph of democracy” that demonstrators had been able to gather without being “met with bullets” — a comment that only added more fuel to the public anger.

In recent days, Mr. Morrison finally seemed to recognize the severity of the problem his government was facing, but only after videos and photographs surfaced of male Liberal Party staffers masturbating onto the desks of female members of Parliament.

who filed a formal complaint against a colleague last week over a recent case of sexual harassment. “Everyone is on alert now and wondering: Where are we going from here?”

Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman who accused Mr. Porter, said she and many others would continue to push for an independent inquiry into the rape allegation, noting that changing Mr. Porter’s role did not address the larger question of whether he was fit for public office.

defamation claim against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its coverage of the rape allegation.

The prime minister said he had retained Mr. Porter in the cabinet because he was “a very capable minister.”

In a statement, Mr. Porter said he did not regret filing the defamation lawsuit, and would give his new portfolio “all the energy and commitment I have.”

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‘March 4 Justice’: Thousands Turn Out in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia — Wearing black and holding signs reading “enough is enough,” thousands took to the streets across Australia on Monday to protest violence and discrimination against women, as a reckoning in the country’s halls of power sparked by multiple rape allegations continued to grow.

The marches in at least 40 cities represented an outpouring of anger from women about a problem that has gone unaddressed for too long, said the organizers, who estimated that 110,000 people attended the demonstrations nationwide.

With the next national election potentially coming as early as August, experts say it is something that the conservative government, which has come under stinging criticism for the way it has handled the allegations, ignores at its own peril.

The public anger over violence against women mirrored sentiments on display in London last weekend. There, thousands joined protests over the killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home at night earlier this month.

allegation that she was raped in Parliament House in 2019 rocked the nation’s halls of power and prompted Monday’s marches, appeared at the Canberra protest. She said that there was a “horrible societal acceptance” of sexual violence in Australia.

“My story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere,” she said.

saying on Twitter: “We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors.”

settled a defamation complaint and agreed to pay damages to Ms. Higgins after calling her a “lying cow.”

“A government that’s been described as having a ‘women problem’ for several years is now really in trouble with women,” said Sarah Maddison, a politics professor at the University of Melbourne.

“I can’t remember a time I’ve seen and personally experienced the level of distress women are experiencing now,” she said. “I think there’s something here with this level of distress that is producing quite an extraordinary moment in our politics.”

Support for the Liberal Party has been slowly declining among women for years, said Sarah Cameron, a lecturer in politics at the University of Sydney, although it was not enough to stop the party from winning the last federal election in 2019. Dr. Cameron added that the party “ignores this trend at their peril.”

In Sydney, organizers estimated that at least 10,000 people gathered in the central business district.

There, Michael Bradley, the lawyer for a now-deceased woman who had said she was sexually assaulted in 1988 by a man who is currently a member of Parliament, called for reforming the justice system. Earlier this month, Attorney General Christian Porter, 50, confirmed that he was the subject of the allegation.

statement of claim filed by his lawyers said that the article, which did not name Mr. Porter, made defamatory imputations.

In an email statement, the ABC said it “will be defending the action.”

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Why the Rape Claim Against Australia’s Attorney General Seems Familiar

The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email.

He was accused of sexual assault decades after it allegedly occurred, in a way that makes police investigation all but impossible. Backed by his party and the most powerful man in the country, he maintained his innocence and held one of the most important legal positions in the country, even as questions continued to swirl around him.

Which man are you thinking of: Australia’s attorney general, Christian Porter, or the United States Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh?

Of course, there are key differences too: Kavanaugh was a new appointee, while Porter is a longstanding member of the government. And Christine Blasey Ford, Kavanaugh’s accuser, was able to publicly testify, which is impossible for Porter’s accuser, who died by suicide last year.

Still, the similarities between the two cases have unsettled many Australian women, intensifying concerns that Australia’s government is continuing to follow the playbook of the (now departed) Trump administration on a variety of issues.

we are eroding the very principles of the rule of law.”

Energy Minister Angus Taylor’s public release of a fake document, a potential audit into whether Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton mishandled government grants and Defense Minister Linda Reynolds needing to publicly apologize for mishandling a rape complaint involving a former member of her staff.

this question: “How good does it feel to be a minister in the Morrison government knowing that no matter what questions arise over your conduct, your job’s safe?”

Now here are our stories of the week:

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Linda Reynolds, Australian Minister, Settles ‘Lying Cow’ Defamation Case

MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s defense minister on Friday settled a defamation complaint and agreed to pay damages to a former aide whom she called a “lying cow” after the woman reported being raped in the Parliament building.

The minister, Linda Reynolds, retracted the remark made in private after lawyers for the former aide, Brittany Higgins, sent a letter last week to Ms. Reynolds demanding a public apology for the “demeaning and belittling” comment. The letter described the remark as “defamatory of our client’s good character and unblemished reputation,” according to local news reports.

Last week, Ms. Reynolds issued a formal apology, saying she had never questioned Ms. Higgins’s account. On Friday, in a short public statement, the minister retracted the comment, which, she said, she had “never intended” to make public.

“I did not mean it in the sense that it has been understood,” Ms. Reynold said.

It was not immediately clear now much Ms. Reynolds agreed to pay in damages. In a text message, the minister’s office declined to reveal the amount. Ms. Higgins did not immediately respond to calls or text messages seeking clarification. But she said in a statement that damages beyond the cost of her legal fees would be donated to a charity supporting sexual assault survivors.

formal complaint to the Australian police.

She also said that days after she was assaulted, she had been questioned by Ms. Reynolds in the same room.

Last week, news.com.au reported that the defense minister had referred to Ms. Higgins as a “lying cow” to staff members in her office after Ms. Higgins came forward. Some staff members raised concerns at the time, and Ms. Reynolds had apologized to them, saying it was a “stressful time,” according to news.com.au.

Ms. Higgins said that Ms. Reynolds’s language about her was “further evidence of the toxic workplace culture that occurs behind closed doors in Parliament House.”

In response to the retraction on Friday, Ms. Higgins said in her statement: “I am pleased that the Minister has now withdrawn her comments and I accept her apology to me.” She added, “This has been an immensely challenging period for me and I wish to reiterate that the only reason I have chosen to come forward is to help others.”

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