Teal MP tells staffer of ambitions to be prime minister
Independent MP Monique Ryan expressed ambitions to be a future prime minister and scolded her chief of staff for catching a plane while infected with COVID-19, court documents allege.
Political staffer Sally Rugg will have to wait until next week to find out if she will retain her job, after she sought an urgent injunction to save it while she pursues legal action against the teal MP.
Explosive details describing a breakdown in Dr Ryan and Ms Rugg's relationship were aired in court documents, as the pair faced the Federal Court on Friday.
They met socially in mid-2022, shortly after Dr Ryan was elected to the federal seat of Kooyong.
Ms Rugg was appointed Dr Ryan's media advisor, which was later merged into a hybrid role after crossbench MP staffing numbers were cut.
Her lawyer on Friday claimed she was pushed or jostled into resigning from Dr Ryan's office in January, after she refused to work unreasonable hours, which is heavily disputed by Dr Ryan.
Ms Rugg outlined a number of claims against Dr Ryan in affidavits, including that in a meeting the MP told her she held ambitions to become prime minister.
"You don't understand, I need to be the best, this is bigger than Kooyong," she alleged Dr Ryan told her in November 2022.
"I want to be the prime minister one day and I need to know my staff are prepared to work hard for me.
"If you are not prepared to work as hard as I want, I will need to consider my options."
Outside court, Dr Ryan played down the comments.
"I'm someone who jokes about lots of things, much of the time, but I have a serious job," she told reporters.
Ms Rugg has alleged Dr Ryan gave her a formal warning after she took a commercial flight home after testing positive to COVID-19 in November, which was not illegal at the time.
Dr Ryan, a medical practitioner, allegedly told Ms Rugg that flying while infected with the virus was a "media or brand risk" to her.
She then told Ms Rugg "I don't think your employment is working out", court documents claim.
Ms Rugg claims she had to work more than 70 hours per week and then perform additional community engagement work in the Kooyong electorate, which she said was not part of her role.
Her barrister Angel Aleksov said Ms Rugg's salary of $136,000 plus a parliamentary allowance of $30,000 did "not justify someone working 70-plus hours a week, week in, week out".
The staffer alleged Dr Ryan told her she would terminate her job after becoming frustrated with Ms Rugg's performance, the COVID-19 incident and after the chief of staff took stress leave.
Dr Ryan's barrister Matthew Minucci said she denied all claims brought against her, including hostile workplace allegations.
He pointed to an Instagram post by Ms Rugg, where she said she had "left her job", as evidence she was not pushed to resign.
Mr Aleksov said Ms Rugg wanted to return to work as an advisor, undertaking policy and media work, while her lawsuit continues.
But Mr Minucci said Dr Ryan does not want to work with Ms Rugg again.
Commonwealth barrister Nick Harrington asked for Ms Rugg's attempts to keep her job to be rejected as the affidavits showed "trench warfare has broken out".
"It is a relationship that has withered on the vine," he said.
Justice Debra Mortimer flagged Ms Rugg's return to work may be unworkable, but said she would deliver her decision next Tuesday.
Dr Ryan issued a statement late on Friday saying politicians and their parliamentary staff were paid more than most Australians and "the public should expect that we work very hard and prioritise engaging with our constituents".