By Sean Car
The City of Melbourne’s independent investigation into sexual harassment claims against former lord mayor Robert Doyle has returned four adverse findings.
A special council meeting held on March 13 heard the long-awaited outcomes stemming from the first report of top silk Dr Ian Freckelton’s investigation into allegations made by Cr Cathy Oke and former councillor Tessa Sullivan.
Council CEO Ben Rimmer said the investigation into allegations made by a third complainant had been suspended until Mr Doyle, who is currently suffering ill health, was able to respond.
However, the CEO has only made public a summary report of the first report, citing “the confidential nature”, “personal” and “health” information, as well as interests of all involved parties, as justification against full disclosure.
On December 15 last year, Ms Sullivan resigned from council after making serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr Doyle, which she documented in a 35-page dossier. This document also included allegations made by Cr Oke.
Having initially taken leave from council amid Mr Rimmer’s announcement of an investigation into the allegations, Mr Doyle resigned as lord mayor on February 5.
On March 13, the four adverse outcomes of Dr Freckelton’s first report were made public and found that:
On May 2, 2017, Mr Doyle deliberately grabbed Ms Sullivan’s breast;
On December 4, 2014, Mr Doyle inappropriately placed his hand on Cr Oke’s inner thigh below her groin area;
On another occasion in late 2016 or early 2017 he embraced Cr Oke and attempted to kiss her on the mouth in his office; and
Each of these matters occurred in the context of Mr Doyle having consumed substantial amounts of red wine.
Investigators were required to apply what is known as the “Briginshaw standard”, which in practice, meant they were required to be satisfied to a level that goes beyond mere likelihood that something happened.
While Mr Rimmer’s summary noted that Ms Sullivan had raised a number of other matters about the conduct of Mr Doyle, investigators were not sufficiently satisfied that they met the Briginshaw standard.
Acting Lord Mayor Arron Wood said that all councillors had unanimously agreed to review the council’s code of conduct and supported management’s review of council’s alcohol and drug policy.
Cr Oke made an emotional speech to the meeting, where she called on her colleagues to cast politics aside and work together to achieve cultural change and a healthier workplace for all.
“Achieving cultural change in an environment where political debate is essential to achieving policy change is of course difficult. We need more women in local government for diversity of voice and approach, but change can’t only be on the shoulders of women to make it happen.”
“I hope I am not being too naïve in wanting my daughter to grow up in a post #metoo era where speaking out doesn’t cause so much pain. Where political games and machinations can still operate but with the view that people can expect to be safe and free from harassment when going about the halls of power,” Cr Oke said.
Cr Susan Riley said she felt ashamed that her fellow councillors had been forced to go through their experiences and called for a “united council” to make its remaining three years the “best term yet”.
Cr Jackie Watts said she was “frustrated” that council and the public was only receiving a summary of the investigation, but felt optimistic and confident that positive change would occur as a result.
Cr Rohan Leppert described the report’s findings as “sobering and serious”. He said he regretted that the process had forced the resignation of Tessa Sullivan and that he missed her presence at council.
Cr Nic Frances-Gilley commended the courage of both women for speaking up and helping guide the process, while condemning some mainstream media coverage for “ganging up on the vulnerable”.
Ahead of the Lord Mayoral by-election on May 11, Cr Philip Le Liu asked all candidates running to have a serious think about what they could bring to council. “Right now we need leadership,” he said.