Rachelle Miller threatens to withdraw from inquiry into Alan Tudge allegations

Former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller is threatening to withdraw from the investigation into her relationship with stood-aside cabinet minister Alan Tudge before she even gives evidence, amid concerns over the independent inquiry.

The inquiry is being led by Vivienne Thom, a former Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. It was ordered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this month after Ms Miller went public with new allegations about the pair’s relationship.

Former Liberal staffer Rachelle Miller has threatened to withdraw from the inquiry into her allegations against the former minister. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Ms Miller, the minister’s former media adviser, alleged that during their affair Mr Tudge, who was her boss, was emotionally abusive and on one occasion physically abusive while the pair were travelling together for work. Mr Tudge has denied the allegations but stood aside temporarily after Ms Miller went public with these fresh allegations.

A letter sent by Ms Miller’s lawyer, Peter Gordon, to the Australian Government Solicitor’s office – and subsequently obtained by The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald – states Ms Thom’s independent inquiry “may very unfortunately suffer from a number of the shortcomings of the current complaints process identified by the Foster Review and the Jenkins process”.

“We reserve our client’s right as to participation in the ‘independent inquiry’ and public comment about it,” Mr Gordon writes.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins conducted a review of parliamentary workplace culture earlier this year, which found one in three parliamentary staff interviewed had been sexually harassed. Senior public servant Stephanie Foster also conducted a separate review of how serious incidents – such as the alleged rape of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins – had been handled.

If Ms Miller were to withdraw from the investigation it would call into question the credibility of the Thom inquiry and raise fresh questions about how the federal government will address Ms Miller’s complaints.

It would also create a political problem for Mr Morrison as, heading into an election year, Mr Tudge’s return to the frontbench – and his future in politics – would remain under a cloud.

Colleagues of Mr Tudge, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was still possible for him to return to cabinet as Education Minister depending on what Ms Thom found. One said that initially it had been hoped Ms Thom’s review would be close to being finalised by Christmas, but that it now looked more likely to conclude by the end of January at the earliest.

The shortcomings outlined by Mr Gordon about the inquiry include that it can’t look at “any conduct which may amount to a criminal offence”.

“We do not consider there is any basis for such a limitation on the ‘independent inquiry’. There are a number of important allegations that may fall into this category,” he states.

“I was so ashamed, so humiliated, so scared, so exhausted. I told the small part of my story I was able to manage.”

This is in reference to Ms Miller’s specific allegation that Mr Tudge had kicked her while the pair were in bed together during a work trip to Kalgoorlie, after her phone rang at 4am with call from a media producer wanting to interview the minister.

The letter from Mr Gordon also states the Australian Government Solicitor’s office had not confirmed whether the entire period of Ms Miller’s employment by Mr Tudge would be examined, asks whether the inquiry will examine whether Mr Tudge has broken any laws, and questions whether legal privilege – which could limit how information about the inquiry is shared – would apply.

Crucially, Mr Gordon’s letter also objects to the fact that Ms Miller may not be entitled to a complete copy of any report produced by Ms Thom’s inquiry and that there is no basis to “deny our client a complete copy of the report”.

Ms Miller did not participate in a previous inquiry conducted for the Department of Finance by law firm Sparke Helmore, in part because she was not able to receive a copy of the final report.

Mr Gordon’s letter concludes by objecting to a suggestion from the Australian Government Solicitor’s office that the Sparke Helmore review may be used by Ms Thom during her own inquiry because Ms Miller did not participate in it, and it was “fundamentally flawed”.

Mr Tudge has previously highlighted that Sparke Helmore inquiry delivered no adverse findings against him.

Ms Miller’s decision to come forward with new allegations about her relationship with Mr Tudge came a year after the pair’s affair was revealed by the ABC’s Four Corners program.

“I am fully aware that a year ago I said my relationship with Minister Alan Tudge was a consensual relationship, but it’s more complicated than that,” she said in a written statement read out in Parliament House on December 2.

“I was so ashamed, so humiliated, so scared, so exhausted. I told the small part of my story I was able to manage.”

Mr Tudge rejected Ms Miller’s claims, saying that “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”.

The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald revealed in February that Ms Miller had brought a separate workplace lawsuit against Mr Tudge, with discussions on that case still ongoing.

“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.”

Comment had been sought from Mr Gordon, Ms Miller and the Prime Minister’s office.

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