“Rachelle Miller’s case is another reason why there needs to be sweeping reforms to the MoPs [Members of Parliamentary Staff] Act and vastly improved processes in how staff in Parliament House are treated.”
Ms Miller told the ABC’s Four Corners program in November about a relationship she had with Mr Tudge, who is now Education Minister.
She subsequently filed a workplace bullying complaint with the Department of Finance over her treatment by Mr Tudge, and a separate formal complaint with the department about what Ms Miller alleges was a “fake redundancy” process that forced her out of Senator Cash’s office.
Ms Miller alleged in her complaint to Finance that she was belittled and humiliated by Mr Tudge while working in his office. She also alleged that she was punished for her affair with Mr Tudge after she had moved to Senator Cash’s office, with her career blocked from progressing.
Workplace compensation law firm Gordon Legal’s senior partner, Peter Gordon, confirmed his firm was acting for Ms Miller. Gordon Legal recently won the Robodebt case that forced the government to pay a total of $1.2 billion in restitution and compensation to 400,000 people.
“Beyond confirming that we act for Rachelle Miller we have no further comment to make at this stage,” Mr Gordon said.
It is understood that Ms Miller and her lawyers have decided not to participate in the Finance Department’s internal inquiry because of deep concerns about its integrity and lack of independence.
A spokesman for Senator Cash said the minister “strenuously rejects claims of any adverse treatment of Ms Miller by her, or her office, and strongly disputes Ms Miller’s version of events”.
“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. Given the matter is subject to a formal process in the Department of Finance, the Minister will not be commenting further.”
Mr Tudge did not respond to requests for comment before deadline and nor did the Department of Finance.
Ms Miller, a highly respected former staffer who worked for the Coalition for a decade and before that in the corporate sector for 10 years, is working through the details of the case with her lawyers in preparation for the legal action.
Ms Higgins’ rape allegations have rocked the federal government and triggered four separate inquiries, including an independent inquiry into the culture of Parliament.
The government is now also grappling with accusations a cabinet minister raped a woman in 1988. The ABC reported on Friday that Labor senator Penny Wong and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young received anonymous letters containing allegations of the rape. They forwarded these claims to police, including a statement from the alleged victim who killed herself in June 2020.
In another blow to the Coalition government on Friday, Liberal MP Nicolle Flint announced she was quitting politics at the next election after just two terms in Parliament.
Ms Flint is regarded as a rising star in the party and has been outspoken about the misogyny and abuse she received as a female MP during the 2019 election campaign.
Fellow South Australian MP and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham paid tribute to Ms Flint on Saturday and highlighted the “attacks from the left, from Get Up! and others, [that] have threatened her and have threatened her office staff” during her time in politics.
Senator Birmingham said it was his understanding that a copy of the letter alleging the historical rape had been sent to the Prime Minister’s office “and it was speedily transferred to the Australian Federal Police, who can bring appropriate experience, expertise and thoroughness to undertake any investigation that is necessary”.
Asked if the unnamed cabinet minister should come forward, Senator Birmingham said that “everyone is entitled to natural justice and it’s important to back the police to do their job.”
Senator Wong said on Saturday that she first became aware of the complainant’s allegation when the pair had run into each on the street in Adelaide in November 2019. The complainant alleged that she had been raped many years earlier by a senior member of the government.
“I said that making a report to the appropriate authorities was the right thing to do. I facilitated her referral to rape support services and confirmed she was being supported in reporting the matter to NSW Police,” Senator Wong said.
The woman spoke to NSW Police last year but did not make a formal statement and investigators suspended the investigation after she took her own life.
Support services: Lifeline 13 11 14; beyondblue 1300 224 636; Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732
James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.