SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has lost its lead in an important opinion poll, as allegations of sexual assault that have roiled parliament impact its popularity and spur women to protest nationwide on Monday (March 15).

The incumbent Liberal-National coalition declined 4 points in the Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on Monday, giving the Labour opposition a 52-48 per cent lead.

Mr Morrison’s net approval rating fell 4 points to +28 per cent as preferred leader, although he remains ahead of opposition leader Anthony Albanese on +1 per cent.

Mr Morrison is backing his Attorney-General Christian Porter to remain as Australia’s first law officer after police earlier this month said they couldn’t proceed with an investigation into an allegation the Cabinet minister raped a teenage girl in 1988.

The prime minister has resisted calls to hold an inquiry into the matter, magnifying scrutiny about his handling of women’s issues. This initially came under the spotlight last month when former government media adviser Brittany Higgins said she was raped in 2019 by a fellow staffer in a minister’s office.

Thousands of women are expected to rally in Australia’s major cities on Monday, including outside Parliament House in Canberra. A march in Perth on Sunday drew about 5,000 people.

Parliament will be suspended for 90 minutes from midday so lawmakers are able to attend the march. Several members of the Labour opposition indicated they will attend.

One of the organisers for the marches, Janine Hendry, said in an Australian Broadcasting Corp. interview on Monday that Mr Morrison’s office indicated he would not attend, but had offered to meet a delegation in his office.

The protesters declined the offer, saying that the prime minister would attend “if he really cared about women, really cared about our voices,” Ms Hendry said.

Not attending parliament on Monday will be Mr Porter, who has been on leave to address mental-health issues after denying the charges in a press conference on March 3.

Also absent to address health issues will be Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who has come under pressure from Morrison for not informing him the details of Ms Higgins’ incident when it came to light two years ago.

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