Sat, 22 Jan 2022

Education minister Alan Tudge has stood aside from his portfolio while a claim by his former staffer Rachelle Miller that he abused her in their relationship, including kicking her out of bed, is investigated.

Miller, who revealed her consensual affair with Tudge on the ABC Four Corners last year, returned to parliament house on Thursday - the final day of the parliamentary year - to make a fresh sensational allegation.

She told of an incident when she and Tudge were in Kalgoorlie in 2017 with then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to announce the cashless welfare card. After a long day Miller, who was media adviser, and Tudge "drank a lot until very late". About 4am "my mobile phone started ringing. I woke up in the pitch black dark and reached for my phone" to take a call from a media producer about a story that had been lined up for that day.

The producer was seeking an interview with Tudge and "I started to talk to her to arrange a time but I was still half asleep. Then I felt someone kicking me on the side of my hip and leg as I tried to sit up in bed.

"It was the minister - he was furious, telling me to get the fuck out of his bed."

Miller said she told the producer she'd call back. "Then I realised I was completely naked. He continued to kick me until I fell off the side of the bed and ended up on the floor. I searched around in the dark for my clothes. He was yelling at me that my phone had woken him up. He needed to get some more sleep.

"He told me to get the fuck out of his room and make sure that no one saw me."

Miller said she had no idea where her room key was, and had to ask reception to cut her a new key.

"I asked him to remind me where my room was," she said.

When she got to her room, "I sat at my desk in yesterday's clothes and started answering and making phone calls and emails to arrange the media for the minister that day.

"We had to meet the PM's team in the foyer in an hour or so. The PM was in the hotel that night.

"I could not remember a single thing from the night before. I don't remember how we ended up in his room. I don't remember leaving the bar. I don't remember if we had sex. I don't remember if we used protection. I still don't and I was too afraid to ask if he remembered."

The next day, after she and Tudge arrived in Melbourne late at night, Tudge did not wait for her or offer her a lift in his car to her hotel. "No thanks. No goodbye," she said, adding that she had been "completely shattered" by what had happened. She said her allegation was "not about revenge. it has never ever been about that. I still sometimes feel sorry for him. It's about ensuring that no one else goes through this in this workplace ever again," Miller said.

"This relationship was defined by significant power imbalance. It was emotionally and on one occasion, physically abusive relationship."

She looked forward to the people in his seat of Aston "holding minister Tudge to account at the election. Or perhaps the prime minister might show some leadership before that, for it's his job to hold his ministers to account for their unacceptable behaviour."

Read more: Buying silence: we can't stop workplace sexual harassment without banning non-disclosure agreements

Tudge immediately rejected the allegation. "I completely and utterly reject Ms Miller's version of events. Ms Miller and I had a consensual affair in 2017 as both of us have publicly acknowledged. This is something I deeply regret," he said.

In parliament before question time Morrison said that Tudge would stand aside while there was an inquiry.

Morrison said the issues raised were "deeply concerning," and distressing for Miller, Tudge, and the families affected.

He had discussed Miller's statement with Tudge who "refuted the allegations".

Morrison said given the seriousness of the claims, it was "important these matters be resolved fairly and expeditiously". The issues would be looked at by the prime ministers department through an independent process, using Vivienne Thom, former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Prime Minister said the inquiry would enable the department to advise him "regarding any implications for the ministerial standards". Stuart Robert will be acting education minister.

In a subsequent statement Tudge said, "I have accepted responsibility for a consensual affair that should not have happened many years ago. But Ms Miller's allegations are wrong, did not happen and are contradicted by her own written words to me.

"I regret having to say these things. I do not wish Ms Miller ill but I have to defend myself in light of these allegations, which I reject.

"The contradictory written evidence will be referred to a full, independent review. I welcome such a process and will make available both myself and all materials, and co-operate in every way.

"I would note that a previous set of claims were also considered and rejected through an independent investigation."

Last year Miller made a formal complaint about Tudge's behaviour, alleging he acted in ways that made her feel humiliated and belittled. The finance department investigation, with which she did not participate on legal advice - found insufficient to substantiate claims of inappropriate behaviours.

Author: Michelle Grattan - Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra The Conversation

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