Australian Federal minister steps down suddenly after public servant complained about his behavior, as PM also announces Mal Brough to stand aside “pending the completion of inquiries by the police”.
The Turnbull government is in upheaval with federal minister quitting over an incident involving a female public servant in a Hong Kong bar and another standing aside during a police investigation.
Cities and Built Environment Minister Jamie Briggs announced his resignation in Adelaide over a late-night incident involving a female public servant in a Hong Kong bar during an official visit last month.
In a shock move, Mr. Turnbull announced shortly afterward that Special Minister of State and Minister for Defense Materiel and Science Mal Brough had agreed to stand down pending the completion of a police investigation.
Mr. Brough has come under fire after federal police executed a search warrant at his home over the James Ashby affair.
The departure of the two MPs will trigger a Cabinet shuffle, but Mr. Turnbull’s statement did not say when this would occur.
The Prime Minister is expected to face pressure to increase the number of National MPs in Cabinet, following the failed defection of Liberal MP Ian Macfarlane to the National Party earlier this month.
Revealing his resignation, Mr. Briggs said his behavior had not met the “particularly high standards required of ministers”.
The Advertiser understands the allegations raised by the female public servant involve three different acts by Mr. Briggs, who was at the bar with her and his chief-of-staff Stuart Eaton.
It is understood Mr. Briggs told her she had piercing eyes, then later put his arm around her. As the trio was leaving, Mr. Briggs gave the female public servant a kiss on her cheek.
It is understood the public servant raised the issue within her department three days later, then sent a formal complaint email several days after that
It is also understood that no further action on the complaint will be taken, following Mr. Briggs’ resignation.
Mr. Briggs today confirmed the public servant had raised concerns about “the appropriateness of my behavior towards her at the venue”.
Nothing illegal has been alleged or occurred, he said in a statement, saying it was at no point his intention to act inappropriately.
Mr. Briggs said the incident was an error of professional judgment and, therefore, the proper course was to resign.
He said the incident happened after a dinner with his chief-of-staff, to which several other officials were invited and one female public servant agreed to attend.
“At the conclusion of the dinner (which I paid for personally) we went to a popular and as it transpired very crowded bar for drinks during which we interacted between the three of us and with others in what I believed, at the time, was an informal manner,” Mr. Briggs says in the statement.
“At the conclusion of the evening, the public servant left to return home and my Chief of Staff and I returned to our hotel together.
“At no point was it my intention to act inappropriately and I’m obliged to note for the record that nothing illegal has been alleged or did in fact occur.”
Mr. Briggs told media in a conference that he was sorry as his ministerial staff would lose their jobs as a result of his behavior.
The married father of three said he had apologized directly to the public servant involved and would not name her to protect her privacy, at her request.
He also apologized to all members of the Government and to the wider community “for my actions which have given me cause to consider aspects of my behavior which I will address”.
“I will be working hard in my electorate to ensure the re-election of the Government,” said Mr. Briggs.
“I have made an error of professional judgment and I am taking, I think, the appropriate course of action,” he said.
“There was offense taken by this public servant after the event. They were raised with me and I have apologized to her.”
A strong supporter of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr. Briggs was handed the Cities and Built Environment portfolio by Mr. Turnbull in September.
He previously was the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.
Mr. Briggs ended up on crutches with an injured leg after a boisterous late-night party in Mr. Abbott’s office on the night he was deposed.
He repeatedly insisted he damaged his ACL while jogging the following morning and was not involved with dancing in Mr. Abbott’s office which damaged an expensive marble table.
Mr. Briggs is married to Estee Fiebiger Briggs, a former staffer to former Prime Minister John Howard.