While Australian Story glossed over bullying by Merri Rose during her stint in the Beattie Government, new claims have emerged of mistreatment of electorate office staff by several other Queensland Labor MPs, including by newly-defected Greens MP Ronan Lee, which have been ignored by the Queensland ALP and Queensland Parliament.
A number of former electorate office staff have approached Crikey to give their accounts of the misery they endured at the hands of Labor MPs wholly out of their depth or turned egomaniacs by their ascension to Parliament.
In one case, two staff members claim they were removed from Lee’s office on full pay following their witnessing of a dispute in his electorate office. One of the staffers claims Lee subsequently tried to prevent her from giving evidence in relation to the dispute. Police were sufficiently concerned about Lee’s alleged harassment of the staffer that they escorted the woman to court.
After five months, Queensland Parliament decided it was unsafe for the women to return to Lee’s office. One received a payout and a letter of commendation from Queensland Parliament stating that she had not contributed to the events leading to the cessation of her employment. Her colleague was moved to the electorate office of now-Health Minister Stephen Robertson.
Another former employee of Lee who worked for him has claimed Lee frequently engaged in extreme verbal abuse of her and other staff, always making sure to do so only when no else would witness it. According to the staff member, Lee asked her to lie in order to provide him with excuses for missing constituent meetings or other political engagements, and repeatedly blamed his staff for missing them. Lee would call the staff member on weekends and deliver tirades that reduced her to tears. She knows of other staff who endured similar treatment. Lee’s office underwent heavy staff turnover in 2007 partly, several sources say, due to his tendency to commence relationships with young female staff members. After going through more than half a dozen employees in 2007 in Lee’s office, Queensland Parliament turned to a temp agency to provide his staff.
However, Lee is by no means the only MP to make their staffers’ lives a misery. Other former and current staffers have told Crikey:
- The former Lee staffer moved to now Health Minister Stephen Robertson’s office found the experience of working there for Left faction player David Forde so scarifying she left.
- A veteran staffer who survived working for several years with Merri Rose was asked to work for a young backbencher to provide a mature and stabilising influence, but only lasted a few months due to her abuse and bullying. When concerns about the MP were made public, Peter Beattie supported them, stating “anyone who thinks this person is a bully is a wimp”;
- An MP refused to accept a staff member returning from surgery unless they immediately returned full-time, against medical advice. The staffer received compensation after a successful unfair dismissal claim.
This is in addition to numerous electorate offices who have received compensation settlements from Queensland Parliament or been forced to take extended sick leave due to the bullying and harassment – sometimes s-xual harassment — of MPs and fellow staff members.
Electorate offices are tough workplaces. They are routinely exposed to marginalised people, citizens who need help, sometimes with mental health problems. It turns out, however, that some MPs fall into that category as well.
Crikey repeatedly contacted Ronan Lee’s office for comment, but he did not respond. The Clerk of the Queensland Parliament said that there was a policy of not commenting on any human resources matter. Premier Bligh’s office did not return Crikey’s calls.