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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

Alan Tudge will not return to his post as education minister, although an independent inquiry concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to find he bullied or harassed a former staffer.

Vivienne Thom, who conducted the inquiry, said the evidence available to her was limited by the decision of the former staffer, Rachelle Miller, not to participate.

If Tudge had been returned to his ministerial duties the controversy would have been reignited, in an election where Morrison will be under fire over issues to do with women.

Tudge said in a statement: “Despite Dr Thom’s findings, given the impact of the allegations on my family and myself, I have requested not to be returned to the front bench before the election. In the meantime, I will focus on my health, my kids and my electorate.”

Morrison said in a statement he “supported” Tudge’s decision to not seek to return to the front bench. Employment minister Stuart Robert will continue in the role of Acting Minister for Education and Youth, Morrison said.

Tudge will obviously be hoping to revive his ministerial career if the government is returned.

Miller accused Tudge of emotional abuse and on one occasion physical abuse (when, she claimed, he threw her out of bed) during their 2017 affair. Tudge denied the allegations.

Miller was Tudge’s media adviser from about August 2016 to November 2017 when he was human services minister.

Late last year, after Miller’s second round of allegations – the first was to the ABC’s Four Corners in 2020 – Morrison had Tudge stand aside from his portfolio and appointed the Thom inquiry

In her report, Thom said there was conflicting evidence about the nature and timing of the relationship.

She said Tudge and Miller were intimate about four times between June and October 2017, in what Tudge considered consensual interactions.

“Mr Tudge considered that this was not an ongoing relationship. He believed that Ms Miller wanted a long-term relationship,” the Thom report said.

“Mr Tudge said that in his view Ms Miller was in love with him and wanted a long-term relationship, which was not reciprocated.”

According to Tudge, “she believed that both should leave their respective spouses and would be happy together. He said that he has not seen Ms Miller since she finished working in his office in 2017. He said that he told her at that time that he could not see her and that his objective was to try to rebuild his marriage.”

Tudge said they had never had sex.

Ms Miller had told at least three people in the office about the relationship at the time, the report said.

The report said Tudge had supported a request, likely after their relationship started, to upgrade Miller’s position, which was a reasonable one based on her competence and workload.

Thom concluded: “In respect of Ms Miller’s allegations and noting that the available evidence was limited by Ms Miller’s decision not to participate in the Inquiry, there is insufficient evidence to support a finding on the balance of probabilities that:

• Mr Tudge bullied or harassed Ms Miller.

• Ms Miller’s relationship with Mr Tudge was emotionally abusive.

• Mr Tudge was physically abusive to Ms Miller during a work trip to Kalgoorlie Western Australia.”

Thom also said the evidence considered in the inquiry did not provide a basis for a finding Tudge breached the ministerial standards.

But she pointed out the ministerial standards “do not specifically address broader integrity and conflict of interest issues that can be a consequence of relationships that do not amount to ongoing or family relationships”.

Tudge said this was the second inquiry created at Miller’s request “and the second time the allegations have been dismissed”.

He said he deeply regretted the 2017 consensual affair “when both of us were married with children and in our forties. It should never have happened”. He said it caused the end of his marriage that year.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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