An independent report has found the conduct of Robert Doyle, Melbourne’s former lord mayor, could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct, making four adverse findings against him as part of an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct.
Councillor Cathy Oke and former councillor Tessa Sullivan accused Mr Doyle of sexually inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Doyle resigned from council in February, about six weeks after Ms Sullivan made allegations against him and resigned from her job.
He has publicly and repeatedly denied the accusations against him.
An independent investigation by Ian Freckelton QC found Mr Doyle deliberately placed his hand on Ms Sullivan’s breast while the lord mayor’s driver was taking them both home one night.
It also found he repeatedly put his hand in a sexually inappropriate manner on the thigh of Cr Oke, and on another occasion tried to kiss her.
The investigation found Mr Doyle had consumed substantial amounts of red wine on each occasion.
The summary report found investigators were not sufficiently satisfied in relation to some other matters raised by Ms Sullivan, but did not detail what these were.
The full report will not be made public, but a summary report was given to councillors at a special meeting this afternoon.
It found the council was not a safe workplace for the two women involved, and Mr Doyle’s conduct could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct.
Council would have been forced to take action
The report identified a lack of a complaints process as a weakness, and called for a review of council policy allowing alcohol to be consumed at Tuesday night meetings.
The investigation was not a judicial process, and set a standard of proof lower than the criminal standard of being proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a statement, Melbourne City Council CEO Ben Rimmer said if Mr Doyle had not resigned it would undoubtedly have been necessary for the council to consider further action, based on the investigation’s findings.
“Those findings are very serious,” he told a special council meeting.
“They relate to conduct that is inconsistent with the values of the organisation and the city.”
A third woman also made allegations against Mr Doyle in his capacity as lord mayor while at a public event but that investigation has been suspended until he is able to respond.
Mr Doyle was hospitalised due to ill health, which delayed the investigation.
However the council said he attended a meeting with investigators to respond to the allegations and his lawyers made a 15- page submission.
An investigation into allegations against Mr Doyle in his role as chairman of Melbourne Health is continuing.
Doyle continues to deny allegations
In a statement, Mr Doyle’s wife, Emma Page-Campbell said her husband remained “extremely unwell” and on medical advice had been unable to review or respond to the report.
“He is currently in hospital. Robert continues to deny all allegations made against him,” she said.
“This finding [regarding Ms Sullivan] is not accepted by Robert.”
Ms Page-Campbell said given the “significant detrimental effect” of the investigation it remains “clearly unfair” for him to be denied the opportunity to address all the evidence given about his alleged conduct.
“Despite numerous requests, Robert was never provided with sufficient detail of the evidence provided to the investigation such that he could effectively defend himself.
“In particular, he was not provided with any written material setting out the evidence given by Councillor Oke.”
She said Mr Doyle now recognises his “cheerful and oftentimes animated personality and manner towards people …may no longer be appropriate by today’s standards”.
‘Take this situation seriously’
Cr Oke addressed a special council meeting dealing with the report and said she was ashamed she did not speak up sooner.
She said she had a “real fear” of talking to powerful people about the matter, believing it could lead to a “media smear or attack [on] my reputation”.
She pleaded with the organisations tasked with supporting the local government sector to get their heads out of the sand and “take this situation seriously”.
“It might sound ridiculous to some but that fear was real and paralysing,” she said.
“This isn’t about stopping attacks on policy or political foes. It’s not about attacking me on bicycle lanes.
“It’s about ethics and it’s about what is right and wrong.”
Melbourne City Council said it “deplored violence” against women in all its forms and expressed “deep concern” about the findings.
“As a council, we are united in ensuring such behaviour does not occur again,” it said in a statement.
“It is important that all women are encouraged to speak out and that councillors have a workplace where they are safe to do their jobs.”