My minister is accused of rape; what does that mean for my department?

By Chris Johnson

Wednesday March 10, 2021

CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme.
CPSU points the finger at Services Australia’s insecure workforce arrangements for contributing to the government’s unlawful robodebt scheme. (Image: Adobe/Rafael Ben-Ari)

The Mandarin has spoken to number of people in the departments whose ministers have been in rape allegations spotlight. The comments that follow are from across departmental levels and on the basis of anonymity.

Allegations of rape are currently casting a shadow over two federal government ministerial offices.

One minister is himself at the centre of a historical rape accusation.

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Another minister is being accused of downplaying (covering up maybe) the alleged rape of one of her young female staffers.

Both ministers – Attorney-General Christian Porter and defence minister Linda Reynolds – are on sick leave.

Porter strongly denies the accusation, while Reynolds says she believes she did all she could to help her young staffer – even though she subsequently called her a “lying cow”.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash has been appointed acting A-G, while foreign minister Marise Payne acts in the Defence role.

There is obviously much left to play out in both these cases.

To be clear, those ministerial offices are in turmoil.

Allegations of rape will not and should not simply disappear.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has played down the destabilisation.

“I’m just very pleased that in the case where we’ve had two ministers who have had to stand down for health reasons, I can turn to two very good other female cabinet ministers who can confidently take up their jobs,” he said on Tuesday.

“And of course, as prime minister, I maintain a very close watch on all of these issues.”

But what of their respective departments?

Departmental work continues regardless of the fate of ministers attached to the portfolios. But such sudden and dramatic circumstances of these cases are having an impact.

The professionalism of the public sector ensures the apolitical work of government rolls on.

The Mandarin has spoken to number of people in these departments. Views expressed have ranged from: “Full steam ahead. Nothing to see here,” to “paralysis has set in” and more.

The comments that follow have been received from across departmental levels and on the basis of anonymity. They differ in perspective and opinion. In order to facilitate the protection of identities, we have decided to not even reveal the levels of each employee.

Neither have we stipulated which of the two departments each comment is from, although in some cases it will be obvious.

  • “Everyone is getting on with their work and in that sense it’s close to business as usual. But I do sense a bit of bewilderment and even shellshock across our workplace.”
  • “This is the public service and we will always come through because that is what we’re here for.”
  • “The one word on everyone’s lips right now is ‘rape’ and of course we are all waiting to see what will be done about it.”
  • “It’s interesting. Language and has changed somewhat. There’s been communications and directives that, while they signal to continue with our work, suggest uncertainty at the top.”
  • “To be accused of rape is a big deal. It’s a big deal for the minister and so naturally it’s a big deal for the department.”
  • “The talk was that everyone knew who it was long before he stepped up, but I didn’t know. From conversations I’ve had within the department, I think a lot of us genuinely didn’t know it was our minister who was at the centre of these allegations.
  • “There is some concern about the person acting in the role and how interfering she will be even though only acting as minister.”
  • “Nothing has changed much for me and I’m quite senior.”
  • “Ministers have become more hands-on over a number of years when it comes to how they interact with their departments. A change in minister is felt in the department. Work changes according to their individual visions and even their personalities. So yes, this will be noticeable, and it is already.”
  • “I feel like we’re on a boat with no rudder. It’s hard to find direction right now.”
  • “I feel a sense of shame that our workplace has, by no fault of our own, been tainted by the actions of ministers and ministerial staff.”
  • “Haven’t noticed any change at all.”
  • “I get a sense that no one seems certain about our next steps.”
  • “Until these matters are properly dealt with – and yes, we are talking about rape – then I think the whole government will remain in a state of comatose and denial, and nothing of any great importance will be achieved.”


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