Planning Minister Rob Stokes has declared his office is a "harmonious workplace" and made an impassioned defence of his staff, while refusing to be drawn on reports 13 people have left in the past year.

It came as Labor's Adam Searle was rebuked by parliamentary colleagues for attempting to identify which staff member was the subject of bullying allegations reported by The Australian.

Mr Stokes told budget estimates that reports of a "toxic" environment within his office were "allegations based on innuendo and smear".

"I will not tolerate bullying in my office," Mr Stokes said.

Adam Searle. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw
Adam Searle. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw

Asked whether any current or former staff have directly raised concerns about an unnamed senior staff member with him, Mr Stokes said:

"If they have occurred, I would certainly not be at liberty to disclose them to you or this committee.

"I operate under a legislative duty to provide a safe workplace to everyone in my office," he said.

Mr Searle attempted to identify which staff members still employed in Mr Stokes' office could be the subject of reported bullying allegations.

Amid the heated questioning, former Green turned independent Justin Field said politicians should have "some degree of awareness" about the impact of questions in budget estimates "given everything that's been in the public realm recently about the nature of the parliamentary process and the experience of staff".

"I do think that there are issues by pointing to specific staff members," he said.

Committee Chair and Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann agreed, saying: "we don't want this committee to stray into what is potentially an adverse mention of particular staff members".

Mr Stokes took on notice questions of whether 13 people have left his office in the past year.

The Minister said his staff were "extraordinary," stating: "I would lie in front of the bulldozer for any one of them because they are an incredible bunch".

The Australian reported that multiple staff gained employment within Mr Stokes' department after leaving his office.

Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Secretary Jim Betts said "all of those appointments have complied with the requirements stipulated".

"I'm the Secretary, under oath, telling you that there is nothing to see here in terms of any improper process associated with those appointments," Mr Betts said.



Originally published as Minister denies toxic office culture