Unfair dismissal trial hears Jacqui Lambie staffer played role in her daughters' employment in electorate office

Senator Jacqui Lambie
Senator Jacqui Lambie

Senator Jacqui Lambie's former office manager drove the employment of her two teenage daughters at the office, even though she said she held the belief it was an unsafe workplace.

Fern Messenger and her husband Rob, a former adviser to Senator Lambie, are fighting an unfair dismissal claim against their old boss and the Commonwealth Government in the Federal Court.

Before they were sacked from their jobs in May 2017 for serious misconduct, they sent a Public Information Disclosure letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull highlighting workplace bullying, improper conduct by the senator, and a range of workplace health and safety issues.

This was without the knowledge of Senator Lambie.

On Monday, the court heard Mrs Messenger had played a part in the employment of her 14-year-old daughter and 16-year-old daughter in the office during two sets of school holidays in 2016.

The pair were paid $24 an hour for their duties.

Senator Lambie's lawyer Nick Harrington questioned why Mrs Messenger would expose them to what she had previously described as an unsafe workplace where vile language was used on a daily basis.

She said she believed they would be safe as she was there to protect them.

Later in the hearing, Mrs Messenger confirmed she had discussed with her doctor the matter of a workers compensation claim before the Public Information Disclosure letter was sent.

A statutory declaration on adverse workplace conditions from a fellow office employee, Mitchell Walker, was attached to the letter though there were no statutory declarations from the Messengers.

Mrs Messenger told the court Mr Messenger had made the suggestion to Mr Walker to write the statutory declaration.

She said she did not recall a discussion with him on how it would be used.

Under law and satisfaction of eligibility criteria, a Public Information Disclosure document would prevent a public official from reprisal from an employer.

Mrs Messenger said she believed she qualified as a public official under the Public Interest Disclosure Act as she was hired in an electorate office, therefore, making her a Commonwealth public servant.

Mr Messenger last week said he believed he qualified as a public official as he had worked within the Australian Defence Force between 1978 and 1987.

On the day the Public Interest Disclosure letter was sent, the pair received a show-cause notice from the senator asking them to explain why they should remain employed.

In the letter sent to Mrs Messenger, Senator Lambie accused her of attending the office while on sick leave to destroy official documents three days before the PID was sent.

Mr Harrington said Mrs Messenger failed to give an adequate explanation to this assertion in her written response to the senator and instead accused her of defamation.

Mrs Messenger said the documents, which she placed in a bin to be shredded, were in line with normal processes within the office.

The Messengers have argued that Senator Lambie sent the show-cause notice in retaliation for sending the PID to Mr Turnbull, but this has been denied by the senator's defence team.

Evidence has been tendered before the court that shows communication between Lambie and Ministerial and Parliamentary Services about Fern Messenger's work performance which pre-dates when the PID was drafted and sent.

This story Mother advocated for daughters to work in 'unsafe office' first appeared on The Examiner.