As a former government staffer moves to settle a $500,000 complaint over mistreatment, new details emerge of sexual harassment she allegedly suffered from another Liberal MP. By Karen Middleton.
Exclusive: Harassment claims against another Liberal MP
The former government staffer who accused senior Liberal MP Alan Tudge of abusing her during a past consensual affair has alleged that another Liberal politician sexually harassed her at Parliament House more than a decade ago.
The account is understood to form part of a negotiated settlement with the Commonwealth, reported to be worth more than $500,000. The government has declined to confirm details of the payment or explain why it was being made.
Rachelle Miller’s allegations go beyond those she has levelled against Tudge, which he denies. They are understood to include a specific historical allegation of sexual harassment against a different Liberal MP who is still in federal parliament. The incident is alleged to have occurred in 2010.
In what The Saturday Paper has been told is a lengthy statement made as part of a workplace claim against the government, Miller describes a series of alleged incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination by more than one Liberal parliamentarian while she served as a Coalition adviser.
It is not clear whether the legal agreement has been finalised. Miller initiated her complaint in November 2020 and lodged the written statement in mid-2021.
Along with these broader allegations, there is now new and further confusion around Tudge’s ministerial status. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this week that Tudge was “technically” still both a minister and in cabinet, albeit unpaid as either.
But his comments appear to contradict Tudge’s official biography, published by the Department of Parliamentary Services on parliament’s website. It says the minister ended his tenure as both a cabinet member and as the minister for Education and Youth on March 4 this year.
Tudge stood aside from his ministerial duties late last year after Miller alleged he had been emotionally and, on one occasion, physically abusive during a consensual sexual relationship in 2017.
On March 4, Morrison announced Tudge was “not seeking to return to the frontbench” and instead wanted to focus on being re-elected in his outer Melbourne seat of Aston.
When reports of the $500,000 settlement emerged on news.com.au this week, Morrison insisted Tudge was still “formally” in cabinet because his ministerial warrant from the governor-general had not been revoked.
“He is a member technically of our cabinet now,” Morrison said on Monday. “He has his portfolio, we have an acting minister in the Education portfolio, he is not being paid as a minister.”
Tudge has denied Miller’s allegations. When she made them publicly last year, Morrison appointed former public servant Dr Vivienne Thom to investigate. Miller declined to take part in the process, saying the inquiry’s terms of reference “forbade it from investigating any allegations which might amount to criminal conduct”.
On March 4, Morrison announced that Thom’s inquiry “does not provide a basis” for finding Tudge’s conduct had breached the ministerial standards. Her report, which is a public document and dated January 27, found there was “insufficient evidence to support a finding on the balance of probabilities” that Tudge had bullied or harassed Miller or been emotionally or physically abusive. It noted that evidence was limited by her decision not to co-operate.
It also noted that the ministerial standards “do not specifically address broader integrity and conflict of interest issues” in relation to extramarital or casual intimate relationships.
The same day, Tudge issued a statement saying he deeply regretted the consensual affair. “It should never have happened and it has caused hurt to our respective families,” he said. “It caused the end of my marriage that year.”
This week, Morrison suggested Tudge’s exit from the ministry was not final. “No one else has been sworn in as Education minister,” he said. “No one has gone to the governor-general. There have been no resignations. We’ve always been very clear about that. And should Mr Tudge wish to return, I certainly, I know he will. And I look forward to him doing that.”
Morrison also refused to be drawn on the details of the reported settlement. “That’s a private matter between Ms Miller and the Department of Finance, so that is not something that, as prime minister, I have visibility over.”
On Wednesday, following the comments, Miller’s lawyers, Gordon Legal, wrote to HWL Ebsworth, who are acting for the federal Finance Department.
The Gordon Legal letter “irrevocably releases” both Morrison and the department from “any obligation of confidentiality” in relation to Miller’s claim, in the wake of leaks they allege could have come only from inside the government.
The letter, signed by senior partner Peter Gordon and released publicly on Thursday, expressed concern at news reports purporting to contain details of the legal settlement.
Gordon’s letter says neither Miller, her husband nor her lawyers had made any disclosure to anyone that could be the source of the news reports.
It notes that one of the recommendations of last year’s Jenkins review was to end “so-called secret settlements”.
Gordon writes, “given the very public context of this dispute, and the misleading statements which have been made that Mr Tudge has been cleared of all wrongdoing, Ms Miller wishes to remove any impediment which prevents the Prime Minister from giving a full and truthful account of matters he now feels constrained to avoid answering on account of any legal obligation to Ms Miller”.
A spokesman for the prime minister said on Thursday it was a matter for the Department of Finance.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 16, 2022 as "Exclusive: Harassment claims against another Liberal MP".
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