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Tudge stands aside amid fresh sex scandal for government

Politics

Federal minister Alan Tudge has agreed to stand aside amid a departmental investigation into allegations raised by his former staffer Rachelle Miller.

 

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced his department would investigate the allegations raised by Ms Miller, Mr Tudge’s former press secretary.

“These issues are obviously deeply concerning and, I know, deeply distressing, for Ms Miller, minister Tudge and the families affected by these events,” Mr Morrison told parliament on Thursday.

“It’s important these matters be resolved fairly and expeditiously. To this end, the minister has agreed to my request to stand aside while these issues are addressed by my department.”

Miller made their consensual relationship public a year ago but went further on Thursday in a plea for change to workplace culture in Parliament House.

She said the minister repeatedly chastised, bullied and belittled her, outlining methods of coercive control.

On one occasion, she alleges Tudge kicked her until she left his bed after her phone rang early one morning and he became frustrated it woke him.

Former public servant Vivienne Thom will head the investigation as Tudge, who “completely and utterly” rejects the allegations, goes on leave until Christmas.

“Ms Miller and I worked closely together in 2017. It involved constant travel, long hours and often we were under pressure,” he said in a statement.

“We became attracted to each other and on a small number of occasions that attraction was acted upon.

“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.”

Miller acknowledged her relationship was consensual but said it was much more complicated than that.

“I was so ashamed, so humiliated, so scared. I was exhausted. I told a small part of the story,” she told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

Miller alleged Mr Tudge once physically kicked her out of a hotel bed, naked, one morning during a work trip because he was angry about being woken by her phone.

“He continued to kick me until I fell off the side of the bed and ended up on the floor,” she said.

Miller said speaking through the media was the only way the government would listen to calls for changes to parliament’s workplace culture.

She said no one from the government, aside from one female chief of staff sending a text, contacted her to see if she was OK after she went public more than a year ago.

Her repeated pleas for meetings with the prime minister and ministers, including Linda Reynolds, fell on deaf ears, she said.

“When I spoke out more than a year ago … I wanted to spark a debate, but I was too unwell to continue to publicly advocate,” she said.

“All I ever wanted was for the government to listen and to acknowledge our experiences in this building.”

Miller said the government had delegated women the job of listening to the awful experiences of other women in parliament and politics.

“This is entirely a men’s issue, and specifically the men in (parliament).

“The Liberal party doesn’t have a women problem, it has a men problem.”

Miller also chastised Labor for staying silent on the issue “because they have just as many skeletons”.

“Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that the perpetrators are the ones who must change the laws to make themselves accountable,” she said.

“Why is it up to the women survivors to fight for change?

“We should not have to fight. We have no fight left.”

Liberal senators Jane Hume and Hollie Hughes threw their support behind Tudge, saying he should not resign because the original allegations were not substantiated by a finance department investigation.

Senator Hughes described the claims as a case of “he said, she said” and questioned what Miller wanted the government to do.

Senator Hume said significant changes had been made already.

Employment Minister Stuart Robert will temporarily take over Mr Tudge’s portfolios.

The new allegations against Tudge come two days after a report by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins detailing a culture of bullying and sexual harassment in federal parliament and politicians’ offices.

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