Ms Rugg, the former chief of staff to the Kooyong MP, took Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth government to court in January — a week before she was set to be terminated — over alleged breaches of the Fair Work Act, including that she was expected to work 70- to 80-hour weeks in the $160,000 taxpayer-funded position.
The case, which set tongues wagging in Canberra and sparked renewed discussion over working conditions in Parliament House, was settled out of court three months later after Ms Rugg accepted an offer to abandon her claim.
In her first interview since settling the case, Ms Rugg spoke to 60 Minutes on Sunday night to decry Australia’s unhealthy work culture, while insisting “millennials aren’t lazy — millennials are incredibly hard working”.
“It seems to me that if the Australian parliament can govern a nation of 25 million people, can make huge decisions about expenditure and revenue and sending us to war, then they can probably be a really safe, productive workplace for the staff who work in the building,” she said.
Ms Rugg, a Melbourne-based activist who previously worked at GetUp and Change.org before going to work for Dr Ryan following the Teal independent’s 2022 win in former Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s seat, said she was now in a new job working “standard” hours.
“Australia was one of the first countries in the world to achieve a standard 40-hour work week, I think that’s a pretty good measure of a week’s work,” she told host Tom Steinfort.
She argued long hours had become far too normalised.
“The hours that Australians are clocking up is completely off the charts,” she said.
“Australia is among the burnout capitals of the world. There’s about four million Australians who are working more than 45 hours a week, two million more than 50 hours a week, and a million more than 60 hours a week. There’s a huge segment of the population working really long hours, and it’s been completely normalised to the point where it doesn’t really raise an eyebrow.”
Ms Rugg added that unlike for the boomers, for many young people there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
“Buying a home for someone my age is almost unimaginable now and the only way it’s potentially, theoretically meant to be possible is with more and more hours of work, and that’s not sustainable,” she said.
“I really respect how hard boomers have worked all their lives too. I think for people of my generation, the promise that if you work hard that work will pay off, that idea is becoming more and more like a myth.”
She questioned whether it was worth working “more and more overtime and [losing] these years with my children”. “At what cost?” she said.
“If there’s no benefit, if this hard work isn’t actually going to pay off the way we’ve been promised that it would, why would we also sacrifice time with our loved ones, being there with our kids when they’re young.”
Ms Rugg was fired on December 23, 2022, with her termination due to take effect on January 31 this year. On January 25 she filed an application with the federal court alleging a breach of Fair Work protections.
She alleged Dr Ryan and the Commonwealth of Australia beached her rights by unlawfully dismissing her for exercising her right to refuse to work unreasonable, additional hours.
Ms Rugg had attempted to maintain her taxpayer-funded role while the case was ongoing, but that bid was thrown out by a federal court judge in March after Dr Ryan argued their relationship was “not salvageable” and she had lost “all trust and confidence” in her former chief of staff.