FOI documents reveal internal complaints in Labor and crossbench MP electoral offices

A Labor MP whose electoral office was the subject of a formal complaint by a staff trainee, and who stood down from the Opposition frontbench, has confirmed she sought and paid for professional advice on staff management.

Documents released under Freedom of Information (FOI) have also revealed a dozen internal complaints relating to staff grievances within the electoral offices of South Australian state Labor and crossbench MPs since the 2018 state election.

The behaviour of MPs and political staffers has been in the spotlight since a report by the state’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner revealed instances of sexual harassment and bullying in South Australia’s Parliament.

The FOI documents were released after The Advertiser made requests about Jayne Stinson’s behaviour, and the ABC sought broader information about “the number of grievances and/or dispute avoidances involving staff members in electorate offices”.

The Member for Badcoe stood down from the Opposition frontbench in late February, citing distressing personal issues.

The documents, from the Department of Treasury and Finance, reveal that a formal complaint was lodged by a trainee in her office earlier this year, and also note that her office has had “a higher than expected turnover of staff”.

The department refused to release another document on the grounds that “disclosure would be unreasonable” because it contained allegations or suggestions that had “not been established by judicial process”.

Ms Stinson said the department had not put any complaints to her.

Asked by the ABC whether she had undergone personal coaching paid for by the ALP to assist her with management of office staff, Ms Stinson replied that she had sought “external advice” to ensure the smooth-running of her office, but had paid for it personally.

“As a new MP I proactively sought external advice on administrative and staffing arrangements to ensure my very busy office runs efficiently and effectively, especially to ensure prompt responses to the large volume of constituent matters raised with me,” she said.

“No such expertise is available internally so I sought a recommendation from party office of a suitable professional. I paid for that advice from my own personal funds.”

Ms Stinson was not the only MP to have a formal grievance lodged in her office — eight other Labor or crossbench MPs did too.

Four of those were made in Light — the Gawler-based seat held by Tony Piccolo.

Mr Piccolo said they all related to “interpersonal relationship matters between staff”.

“Three of the complaints were about another staff member,” Mr Piccolo said.

“The fourth, I understand does not relate directly to me either.”

Other grievances were raised in the offices of Labor MPs Katrine Hildyard, Nat Cook and Tung Ngo.

Ms Hildyard would not say whether or not the complaint was about her, while her Upper House colleague, Mr Ngo, said the grievance in his office does relate to him.

Ms Cook said she is not aware of the nature of the complaint in her office.

“While I can’t be certain, I was advised by a third party this complaint was not about me,” Ms Cook said.

Independent MPs John Darley, Frances Bedford, Frank Pangallo and Connie Bonaros also had one grievance in each of their offices.

Mr Darley and Ms Bedford admit they were the subject of the complaints.

The SA-Best MPs said they were only aware of one grievance in their office.

“We are only aware of one complaint (by the trainee) and that was against our former office manager who no longer works for SA-Best,” they said in a joint statement.

Mr Pangallo later added that he and Ms Bonaros were confident the complaint was not directed against one of them.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said while none of the complaints related to Government MPs, “we don’t claim perfection in relation to these things”.

He said it was “not uncommon” for there to be “differences of opinion” between MPs and their staff members.

But he also said it was “highly unusual to have a significant number in a short period of time”, and called on Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas to “publicly account” for the behaviour of Labor MPs.

“These FOI requests shine the spotlight on Mr Malinauskas’s party,” he said.

“It’s his responsibility now, given the questions that have been raised by staff members in a number of offices, not just the Member for Badcoe, to publicly account for what he’s done to satisfy himself that he’s 100 per cent convinced that his members have been behaving appropriately in terms of the treatment of their staff.”

Mr Malinauskas has been contacted for comment.