Opinion, by Stephen Mayne
The imminent end of Robert Doyle’s record-breaking nine-year run as Lord Mayor of Melbourne hadn’t happened when this column was first written but, make no doubt about it, it is inevitable.
There are now 4 separate women – ex councillor Tessa Sullivan, current councillor Cathy Oke, the un-named partner of a Melbourne Health medical specialist and Dianne Mallas, a former constituent in Cr Doyle’s state seat of Malvern – who have given detailed formal evidence against the Lord Mayor, plus had their stories made public.
There are more stories to be told, such that if Cr Doyle doesn’t voluntarily resign, a majority of councillors will almost certainly step up and call for such a move at a council or committee meeting before the end of February, potentially even at the opening committee meeting on February 6.
Councillors can’t sack each other but if enough Team Doyle councillors choose to stand by their man, they run the risk of the whole council being sacked by the State Government. It is much easier for the government to sack a council than an individual councillor, so Cr Doyle should keep that in mind as he mulls whether to stay or go.
The cleanest outcome would be for Cr Doyle and his loyal deputy Arron Wood to both resign before the February 6 committee meeting so that fresh elections for the entire two person leadership ticket can be held. The remnants of Team Doyle – Crs Kevin Louey, Susan Riley, Nicholas Reece and Beverley Pinder-Mortimer – should then resolve to sit as independents for the rest of the term. Without Robert Doyle there should be no Team Doyle.
If trying to make a fresh start, it would be unreasonable for a new directly elected Lord Mayor to be saddled with 10 Doyle-era councillors, including Doyle’s hand-picked deputy.
If Cr Wood hangs on as deputy and there is only a by-election to find a new Lord Mayor, he’ll face an avalanche of questions about what he knew about the culture at Town Hall.
Cr Wood is not a career politician – he’s a talented communicator and educator on environmental issues who should return to his first love on a full-time basis.
There will be various women’s groups asking questions at the February 6 committee meeting and the other loyal male Doyle supporter who will come under significant pressure is Kevin Louey, the quietly spoken chief Doyle fundraiser who has occupied the top position on the Team Doyle council ticket for the past two elections.
The view of former Team Doyle councillor Tessa Sullivan will be pivotal. If she details a lack of support or protection during her time on council and calls for additional resignations from her old council faction, it will be hard to resist.
Much will turn on the contents of Ms Sullivan’s 35 page dossier and what the investigator Ian Freckelton QC says in his report, assuming it is made public by City of Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer.
The Lord Mayor is being given a copy of the draft Freckelton report 72 hours before CEO Rimmer will receive his copy. This is for fact checking and right of reply purposes, but it will also represent a resignation window.
A similar process occurred with the Sullivan dossier which was delivered to the Lord Mayor a week before he appeared before Freckelton on January 5. Interestingly, Ben Rimmer did not show his Lord Mayor a copy of the dossier before commissioning Freckelton or securing the Lord Mayor’s December 17 concession via Twitter to stand down for a month.
Once he has a copy of the Freckelton report, the Lord Mayor will have options, including to threaten litigation if the report is released. However, the public interest is so overwhelming that, at the very least, City of Melbourne will have to release a summary of its key findings, which will include my evidence that I saw the Lord Mayor grope Cr Oke under the table at a council dinner on December 8, 2014.
The State Government will undoubtedly get a full copy of the report and it is ultimate kingmaker in this situation.
Whilst the Lord Mayor has a strong personal relationship with Premier Daniel Andrews, it is ominous that the Health Minister Jill Hennessy has commissioned a separate QC to investigate complaints made about his 10-year stint as chair of Melbourne Health. This investigation by Charles Scerri QC will remain on foot well into February, by which time the Lord Mayor should have realised his goose is cooked and already resigned from all public positions.
It’s far better to resign than be sacked and that is what will happen at Melbourne Health if he tries to fight on. And once that domino falls, Town Hall would inevitably be next, particularly given the powers held by the State Government.
Stephen Mayne is a former councillor.