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Australian minister suspended over accusations of abusing staffer

December 3, 2021 People's Journal 202 views

AFP — An Australian cabinet minister has been removed from his post while allegations he was abusive toward a former staffer during their relationship are investigated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Thursday.

It comes just days after an inquiry found that sexual harassment and bullying are rife in Australia’s parliament, with both lawmakers and staff affected by the institution’s “sexist” culture.

Former government staffer Rachelle Miller on Thursday accused Education and Youth Minister Alan Tudge of emotional and physical abuse during their relationship in 2017 when she was his media adviser — allegations he has denied.

Miller, who publicly disclosed the consensual affair last year, told reporters in Canberra it was an “emotionally and on one occasion physically abusive relationship” that was “defined by significant power imbalance”.

She described Tudge allegedly kicking her until she fell out of bed onto the floor after she answered a work call at about 4 a.m., saying he was “furious” at losing sleep following a night of drinking together.

“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,” she said.

Just hours after Miller’s statement to journalists, Morrison told parliament that Tudge had agreed to stand aside while the allegations are probed through an “independent and fair process”.

“Given the seriousness of the claims made by Ms Miller, it’s important these matters be resolved fairly and expeditiously,” the prime minister said.

“This is the appropriate action for me to take under the ministerial standards. I note that Minister Tudge has welcomed this process.”

Tudge earlier denied the allegations, saying in a statement to local media that he “completely and utterly” rejected Miller’s version of events.

The working culture at Australia’s parliament has been under increased scrutiny since parliamentary staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped inside a minister’s office in 2019 after a night out with conservative Liberal Party colleagues.

Her allegations — which are now before a court — fuelled nationwide demonstrations and demands for reform.

A subsequent government-backed report released Tuesday said just over half of the people currently working at parliament had experienced bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault.

The report made 28 recommendations in response, including a formal statement of acknowledgement by political leaders, targets to increase gender diversity and “a proactive focus on safety and wellbeing”.

In a statement late Thursday, Miller’s lawyers said she welcomed the investigation but that “the existing system is neither independent nor fair”.

Gordon Legal said Miller would co-operate with the probe, which is set to be conducted by a former public servant appointed by the prime minister’s office. By Scott Morrison