The Liberal Party has been accused of running a “fake redundancy” process to quietly get rid of a press secretary who had an affair with Immigration Minister Alan Tudge before “black-listing” her from future roles.
In a 14-page official complaint to the Department of Finance obtained by news.com.au, Rachelle Miller has detailed allegations of bullying and intimidation she experienced working for the Coalition that she said often left her in tears.
As revealed by the ABC’s Four Corners program, she confirms she entered into a consensual relationship with the Immigration Minister when he held the human services portfolio, but also felt bullied in the office and that her work performance was questioned as a result of the fallout from the affair.
She makes no claim of sexual harassment in the claim but says she did feel bullied and intimidated at times in the office.
At one point, Ms Miller told Mr Tudge that his behaviour was “not OK”; that she was stressed, anxious and sometimes reduced to tears.
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“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.
Ms Miller said she felt very upset, confused and anxious she had allowed herself to end up in such a situation.
“Alan would contact me and text me at all times of the day and night and expect that I would immediately respond,” she said.
“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.
“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.”
Mr Tudge has previously apologised for the “hurt” the affair caused his family and Ms Miller but rejected claims his former staffer was bullied.
“He would often ask me to go to dinner or drinks at the end of a long day on the road. I often felt like I didn’t have much choice or couldn’t say no because he was my boss,” Ms Miller states in her complaint.
“It was extremely confusing because we were also in a relationship and at times I asked to see him because I wanted him to give me some answers about his behaviour. I was very scared and worried about people finding out.”
She left Mr Tudge’s employment in late 2017 before moving to Senator Michaelia Cash’s office and confessed the affair to her new boss at the time.
But she ultimately felt she was “set up to fail”, with Senator Cash losing confidence in her performance and posting text messages on the office WhatsApp group that she felt were attacking and demeaning towards her.
In June 2018, just over six months after she joined the office, Ms Miller was informed her job was being made redundant as a result of a restructure.
“I was informed … they were restructuring the office and that my role was being made redundant,” she said.
“I could either apply for the role of Assistant Media Adviser. The Senior Media Adviser role was becoming a Senior Policy and Media Adviser role. I asked if I could apply for that and they said that I would not meet the selection criteria as I had no policy experience.
“It was very clear that this was a fake redundancy process put in place to get rid of me from the office. There were no grounds for this, there had been no performance management process put in place nor had I received formal warnings.
“I had almost no discussions with the Minister regarding this process and was excluded from speaking with her, she refused to answer my calls or messages and emails.”
In a statement, Senator Cash denied that Ms Miller had been bullied in her office but welcomed the investigation.
“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,” Senator Cash said.
“Given the matter is now subject to a formal process in the Department of Finance, the Minister will not be commenting further.”
After working in politics for over a decade, Ms Miller said she subsequently found all her attempts to get another job with the Morrison Government were blocked.
“I have tried on multiple occasions to gain employment with other Ministers because I really enjoyed being a Media Adviser and had worked so hard to build up that career,” she said.
“These have been continuously blocked and I have had no success, even for roles in which I was over-qualified. I strongly feel that my reputation has been severely damaged due to the rumours and I am now being black-listed. One of the roles I applied for after the 2019 election was approved by the Minister and then blocked by ‘Star Chamber’ headed up by Tony Nutt, who is a Victorian Liberal Party powerbroker and would have been aware of the rumours about the relationship between Alan and myself.
“I strongly feel I have been discriminated against because of a personal relationship, that I have experienced bullying and harassment which led to the end of my promising career in politics, and I’d like my complaint to be received in the hope people working in Parliament now don’t have the same experience.”