The fall of Robert Doyle ought to have been completed yesterday. Even his number one sponsor in Melbourne, 3AW shock jock Neil Mitchell, today declared he was “finished, and rightly so”.
Melbourne’s former lord mayor had been in possession of the Freckelton report for six weeks and a sensible approach would have been to accept the findings detailed in it, apologise to the women involved and state that he was a problem drinker who was determined to do something about it.
Instead, as Gay Alcorn eloquently outlined in The Guardian and Susie O’Brien pointed out to Herald Sun readers, Doyle chose to have his wife, Emma Page-Campbell, make this statement and continues to deny all allegations.
The Freckelton report specifically states that Doyle admits to groping Councillor Cathy Oke on the leg during the CEO interview dinner at Lupino Bistro in Little Collins Street on December 4, 2014.
Why did he do this? Doyle’s 15-page written submission and oral evidence was dismissed thus by Ian Freckelton, QC: “The investigators did not accept the argument advanced by Mr Doyle in respect of an incident at a restaurant that his touching of Ms Oke was a signal to her that he was impressed by a candidate for a job.”
Can you believe it? I was the third member of the City of Melbourne CEO selection committee at the time and Robert Doyle didn’t grope my thigh whenever this particular candidate — who was not successful — made some impressive comment at the dinner.
City of Melbourne councillors have been understandably silent about this saga over the past three months, so it was great to see the strength of their support for the female councillors during last night’s 40-minute council meeting, which is available to view on The Herald Sun website.
Doyle’s loyal deputy of eight years, Councillor Susan Riley, who was inexplicably dumped to number four on the Doyle ticket to make way for political newcomer, former Councillor Tessa Sullivan at the 2016 election, declared she was “ashamed” to discover what had gone on.
Councillor Oke made another emotional speech and the point she made about the powerful networks in Melbourne was referring to Robert’s Doyle cosy relationship with The Herald Sun, 3AW Morning presenter Neil Mitchell and, to a lesser extent, Jeff Kennett.
Councillor Oke told ABC Melbourne’s Jon Faine this morning, in her only radio interview, that when she saw The Herald Sun’s victim shaming front page attack on former Councillor Sullivan on January 9, “it really shook me”.
Sullivan went in harder, naming Jeff Kennett, Neil Mitchell and The Herald Sun as the group which backed Doyle and attempted to discredit victims.
Doyle was tight with the various powerful male players around town. He had regular meals with Premier Daniel Andrews, was a confidante of Tony Abbott when he came to town as prime minister and used to travel to Canberra at times just to hang out in the office of Josh Frydenberg, who fancies himself as a future prime minister. He also presented Kerry Stokes with the keys to the city, declared Rupert Murdoch’s mother the first Freewoman of the City, did regular radio interviews with Eddie McGuire and happily made Shane Warne King of Moomba.
What all these powerful men say and do now about their fallen friend will be interesting to watch.
Neil Mitchell was particularly bad because he presented himself as a witness to the “Carla” incident at the Melbourne Health Awards, and effectively called the complainant a liar. As Sullivan told Faine this morning, Mitchell should have said nothing and let the inquiry take its course.
While it is no excuse, Doyle at least knew Councillor Oke and then-Councillor Sullivan when he groped, touched, squeezed or kissed them after drinking copious amounts of red wine. With Carla, it was his first meeting.
Doyle was not too sick to put out a statement denying everything yesterday but he has been too sick to respond to Carla’s compelling statement, which she provided to both Freckelton and the separate Melbourne Health inquiry set up by Health Minister Jill Hennessy. These inquiries are still going.
If Doyle continues to effectively call all these women liars, don’t be surprised if a formal complaint is lodged with the police in order to have a court make a more formal official judgment than what a council-commissioned QC was able to do yesterday.
Such denials will also fuel calls for Doyle’s Companion of the Order of Australia to be removed. Based on what we now know, and particularly the complete lack of contrition, I reckon this is a no-brainer. “Sexual predators” shouldn’t keep their gongs, but don’t expect to hear that line from the long-serving powerful men who run Melbourne.
The problem with powerful editors and shock jocks is that you rarely hear from their bosses. Any accountability they face is normally from other media outlets, such as when Gay Alcorn took Neil Mitchell to task, or when Media Watch hopped into the Herald Sun on Monday night.
Penny Fowler, Rupert Murdoch’s niece and the chair of the Herald & Weekly Times board, needs to say something about Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston, who made some appalling decisions to blindly back Doyle and victim-shame Tessa Sullivan and wasn’t backing down in today’s full-length editorial.
Maybe it is time the Herald Sun had the first female editor in its history, and maybe it is also time for 3AW to let a few women step up to the mic.
Stephen Mayne was a City of Melbourne councillor with Robert Doyle and Cathy Oke from 2012 until 2016.