Cabinet minister Alan Tudge has stood aside from his portfolio pending an investigation by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet after his former lover and staffer accused him of emotional, and in one case physical, abuse.
Mr Tudge has "completely and utterly" rejected Rachelle Miller's accusations, and restated that he "deeply regrets" their affair. He has now gone on leave until at least Christmas due to the "immense personal impact of such claims". It is expected he will provide text messages which he says will contradict the claims.
Ms Miller says she is speaking up in the wake of the Jenkins review into parliamentary workplace culture to get parliamentarians, including the Prime Minister, to listen and make change. She's been backed as inspiring by former Labor MP Emma Husar, who has also fallen foul of unacceptable treatment of women in politics.
"It took great bravery for Rachelle Miller to get up today and tell her story again, a story that I've been talking about since 2018," Ms Husar told The Canberra Times.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had asked the federal Education Minister to step down earlier on Thursday and he immediately agreed.
"Given the seriousness of the claims made by Ms Miller, it's important these matters be resolved fairly and expeditiously," he told Parliament at the start of question time.
After airing her story of a workplace affair with her boss, Mr Tudge, to Four Corners last year, and just days after the Jenkins review was released, Ms Miller has come forward with further allegations of abuse.
Ms Miller alleges she suffered emotional abuse and that, on one occasion during a work trip to Kalgoorlie with the Prime Minister, she woke up in Mr Tudge's hotel bed naked and confused about how she got there.
She claims he proceeded to physically kick her out of the bed and room.
"In the shower, I had a moment to think I could not remember a single thing from the night before," she said.
Ms Miller said she wanted to speak out again to say what happened to her was not OK.
"I call on every woman in this building to come and stand with me if they can, but I know that many can't because they're frightened," Ms Miller told reporters.
"They're scared about their jobs, their livelihoods, and the careers they've worked hard for."
Former Labor MP Emma Husar said Ms Miller had shown "great bravery" and is also urging immediate action on the Jenkins review, saying the recommendations were "not asking for rocket science".
Ms Husar resigned in 2018 after claiming she was subjected to vicious backgrounding, undermining, and sexual harassment which would "never be allowed in corporate Australia".
She has asked Labor leader Anthony Albanese - who was not leader when she resigned - for an apology over the way she was treated, and reminded him of that request when Brittany Higgins went public with her allegation.
"All the people that have got stories like me - [including] Kate Ellis, Julia Banks, and Rachelle Miller - think: if I'd have spoken up sooner, if I'd have been more courageous, if I'd have done something, maybe that wouldn't have happened to her," she said.
"There's this sense of survivor's guilt amongst us, and there's also a sense of deep responsibility."
The Prime Minister told Parliament on Thursday - the last sitting day for 2021 - the new allegations against Mr Tudge needed to be properly assessed and the respective parties needed to be able to put their views.
He said the investigation would look at whether ministerial standards had been breached.
"I wish to stress that this action in no way seeks to draw a conclusion on these matters, Mr Speaker. But this is the appropriate action for me to take under the ministerial standards," Mr Morrison said.
Mr Tudge issued a statement.
"I completely and utterly reject Ms Miller's accusations," the statement read.
"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.
"I regret having to say these things. I do not wish Ms Miller ill but I have to defend myself in light of these allegations, which I reject."
Mr Tudge welcomed the investigation and indicated he will be submitting personal correspondence.
"The contradictory written evidence will be referred to a full, independent review," he continued.
"I welcome such a process and will make available both myself and all materials, and co-operate in every way."
Ms Miller, who also says she will cooperate fully with the investigation "if it's independent and fair", is expecting he will be producing text messages.
"I'm fully aware that the text messaging between Minister Tudge and I over many years can at times look like I was a willing participant," she said.
She said she was speaking out again to ensure the recommendations from the Jenkins review are implemented in full, with "no sneaky loopholes for parliamentarians".
"You have the power. We do not. We are asking you to do this," she said directly to MPs and senators.
"The Prime Minister may not hold a hose, but he has the power. He can do this now. Why isn't he immediately committing to this?"
Ms Miller said the Jenkins review showed the perpetrators of abuse were mostly male parliamentarians with immense power over their junior victims.
"This is entirely a man's issue, and specifically the men in this building," she said.
"The Liberal Party doesn't have a women problem. It has a men problem. Labor have stayed quiet because they have just as many skeletons; the two major parties will work together when they're protecting each other.
"I'm not here because I want to be, but because speaking through the media is the only way that this government will listen."
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