HomeAlan Tudge press secretary affair investigation lacks evidence

Alan Tudge press secretary affair investigation lacks evidence

An investigation into whether Education Minister Alan Tudge had an inappropriate relationship with his press secretary has reported its findings.

A taxpayer-funded workplace investigation into Education Minister Alan Tudge’s extramarital affair and treatment of his former press secretary Rachelle Miller has found there was insufficient evidence to substantiate allegations of inappropriate behaviours.

News.com.au has confirmed the finding was made after Ms Miller, who has spoken out about the couple’s “toxic” sexual relationship, declined to participate on legal advice because it was a flawed process.

Despite her decision not to participate, the Department of Finance authorised law firm Spark Helmore to continue with the investigation anyway without interviewing the complainant, which ultimately cost taxpayers $39,998 (GST inclusive). It has declined to release the findings.

Last year Ms Miller submitted a formal complaint to the finance department – responsible for ministerial staff – before she obtained legal representation. Once she had obtained legal representation her lawyers advised her not to participate in the inquiry but continue negotiations for compensation in other forums.

“In relation to Ms Miller’s complaint, it would not be appropriate to comment further in relation to matters regarding individual Parliamentarians and staff,’’ a spokesman for the Department of Finance said.

“Finance treats every report of bullying and harassment seriously. Ms Miller has publicly stated that she made complaints to Finance.

“Finance engaged Sparke Helmore to independently investigate the complaints. The conduct of the investigations was a matter for Sparke Helmore.

“The investigations have now been completed. All parties, including Ms Miller, have been advised of the outcome.”

Negotiations between Ms Miller’s lawyers Gordon Legal and the Commonwealth over a separate compensation claim are ongoing. Mr Tudge denies he ever bullied Ms Miller but admits to conducting an extramarital affair.

The ABC’s Four Corners program Inside The Canberra Bubble first revealed Ms Miller’s story a year ago this week. The former press secretary to the then Immigration Minister Alan Tudge revealed she had an affair with him while working in his office and was left feeling like “damaged goods” after he asked her to war-game denials to journalists when they started asking questions.

Ms Miller told Four Corners that Canberra could be a “highly sexualised environment”. However, she did not make a complaint of sexual harassment in her original complaint to the Department of Finance. Instead, it focused on the toxic working environment.

“I don’t for a moment kind of say that all the men were predators and all the women were victims, but, you know, it was a highly sexualised environment at times, and I think that’s a consequence of the stress,” she said.

“It’s kind of that “work hard, play hard” mentality that I’ve seen before early in my career. And there is a kind of … an almost gung-ho kind of mentality by a lot of the senior males that they’re kind of almost beyond reproach, like, they can just get away with things. And … nobody calls that behaviour out.”

At one point, Ms Miller told Mr Tudge that his behaviour was “not OK”; that she was stressed, anxious and sometimes reduced to tears.

“The next morning he was in the Canberra office. I decided to speak up and let him know this was not appropriate behaviour and that I wanted it to stop. He replied in a very angry tone to: ‘Stop being such a precious petal’. This is when I decided to seek another role,” she said.

“Alan would contact me and text me at all times of the day and night and expect that I would immediately respond,” she said.

In a 14-page official complaint to the Department of Finance obtained by news.com.au, Rachelle Miller detailed allegations of bullying and intimidation she experienced working for the Coalition that she said often left her in tears as Mr Tudge called her non-stop if she failed to answer.

“If I did not, he would be annoyed and ask where I had been and why I hadn’t picked up straight away. I recall several times in the office and at home after hours when I went to the bathroom or had a shower and came back to repeated missed calls from Alan, he would just re-dial and re-dial until you picked up. Add to this the constant calls from journalists and I was working very long hours,’’ she said.

“Of course we were afraid to speak up. We knew that we were able to be sacked by our Minister at any time, so we did not report poor behaviour. The whole time I worked in the MOPS system I never saw an MP or Senator removed from their position due to bullying and harassment, I felt like the system was stacked against us and protected the parliamentarians

“I saw a lot of really poor behaviour in my time in parliament and I feel I let down a lot of women. As a senior staffer, I could have done a lot more to stand up for people. Instead, there was a culture of just putting your head down and not getting involved. I think that it’s really important now for me to be able to speak out and say that this behaviour wasn’t OK.”

Mr Tudge strenuously denies the bullying allegations but admits to the extramarital affair – posting a long apology on Facebook at the time.

“All of us make mistakes in life, but some of us make bigger ones than others,’’ Mr Tudge wrote.

“I made a huge one in 2017, hurt many in the process, and this week it was held up in lights nationally.”

In his plea for forgiveness, Mr Tudge also chose to highlight the fact that his ex-lover was a married mother.

“My mistake was an affair with a married woman with children,’’ he said.

“I was a married man. And she was my most senior media person. A minister and his or her media adviser work closely together, particularly at the national level. You are constantly on the road, travelling from one location to the other, working long hours and often under pressure.”

Mr Tudge said he accepted the blame for allowing the relationship to move from a professional one to a romantic affair.

“In this situation, the error was mine and I take responsibility,’’ Mr Tudge said.

“There is nothing that justifies what I did and I will regret my actions for the rest of my life.” The Victorian MP also said he felt deep regret for the impact on his wife and children.

“The affair ended my 20 year relationship with my wife, a beautiful person. We separated in late 2017 but remain close. I will never be able to say sorry to her enough for the hurt I caused,’’ Mr Tudge said.

Mr Tudge said he was working to become a better person after the marriage breakdown and repair his relationships. He was promoted to the education portfolio by Prime Minister Scott Morrison just one month after the extramarital affair was revealed.

After the affair with Mr Tudge ended, the Liberal Party has been accused of running a “fake redundancy” process to quietly get rid of Ms Miller before “black-listing” her from future roles.

Ms Miller claimed that she had been subjected to bullying and a toxic working environment in Mr Tudge’s office during the extramarital affair and felt managed out of her next job with then Workplace Relations Minister Michaelia Cash.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, who also employed Ms Miller after she left Mr Tudge’s office has previously “strenuously rejected claims of any adverse treatment of Ms Miller by her, or her office, and strongly disputes Ms Miller’s version of events”.

Senator Cash said she was aware of the affair between Mr Tudge and Ms Miller at the time and tried to support her.

“At the time of her employment, between late 2017 and mid-2018, the minister and the office understood Ms Miller’s personal circumstances which is why support, leave and flexible work arrangements were offered to her,’’ a spokesperson for Senator Cash said.

News.com.au has contacted Mr Tudge and Ms Miller’s lawyer Peter Gordon for comment.


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