Mar 14, 2018

Doyle is finished, but what about the men who supported him?

Release of details from the Freckleton report into disgraced Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle has all but buried his chances of recovery, though the fate of the powerful men who enabled him is less certain.

Stephen Mayne — Journalist and Founder

Stephen Mayne

Journalist and Founder

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.”

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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.


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30 thoughts on “Doyle is finished, but what about the men who supported him?

  1. Elizabeth Meredith

    Stephen! “declared Rupert Murdoch’s mother the first Freewoman of the City”. His mother had a name! Dame Elisabeth Murdoch was an amazing woman in her own right, and absolutely deserved such an award .
    The statement was poor , made worse in such an article.

  2. Kate Sommerville

    Stephen, you reportedly witnessed the harassment of Cathy Oke and privately supported her. Why did you not tackle Robert Doyle about it? It is an obvious question and there may be reasonable answers. Some of the Councillors and senior staff were White Ribbon Ambassadors. What went wrong?
    Robert Doyle’s drinking and other behavioural issues must have been obvious to many Councillors and Council staff in the nine years but nobody tackled him quietly or otherwise. Was he SO powerful?
    Intimidation, sexual and otherwise, is pretty common in organisations these days. Nobody deals with it well.
    For some reason, intimidation/bullying is not uncommon in local governments from the very highest levels down. There have been a few relatively recent investigations in well-known Councils so there would seem to be a role for the MAV and VLGA.
    With sexual harassment, women can go to the Human Rights Commission and for other forms of bullying people have to go to WorkSafe Victoria. It is an arduous process, especially if people experience the particular isolation that surrounds such situations.
    There is little new about all this. It has been happening for years in all sorts of organisations.
    What is different is that cases like this at Melbourne City Council open the doors and windows, giving individuals and organisations permission to think about it all again. It is about power and control and, unfortunately, neither gender is exempt.


      Agreed Kate and perhaps Stephen’s article could have mentioned Jon Faine who said he knew about Doyle’s behaviour – or some of it – and yet had said nothing at all even to personally criticism Doyle privately – as Helen Garner pointed out in her letter to The Age. There are a lot of METOOs but with no hashtag among Melbourne’s influential men – and what have they done – til now? Nothing at all.


        oops should have been ‘criticise’ sorry!

        1. Kate Sommerville

          At least Stephen has now made up for his initial silence! Plenty of media exposure now.
          It will be interesting for someone to check the long-term outcomes of all this in a few years time. Local government is riddled with harassment and bullying of various kinds and too often those who abuse their power get away with it. I’m not referring to sexual harassment alone. Common-ground bullying is probably more common.
          At least in Melbourne City Council, this time the process has ceased although it took years and a confident, educated and well-supported woman in Tessa Sullivant to bring it to a head. Think of all those who are not able to challenge the status-quo as she was able to.
          Tessa Sullivan is courageous but also well-resourced. When this settles down, I feel that she may emerge in some other form of advocacy based on her experience at Melbourne City Council.
          I was interested to see her particular interest in disability given her childhood experience. She seems to have a lot to offer in terms of leadership and I’d like to see her use that as many other Melbourne women have in other fields.

    2. Bob the builder

      The same old story.
      When these things come out, the political-media elite, among whom I include Stephen Mayne, apparently all knew about it and are quick to condemn others.
      But where were they when it was happening?

      Mayne, I think your readers deserve some explanation of your own behaviour.

  3. AR

    In other news, circle the wagons and shoot the messenger.
    I long for the da

    1. AR

      ..sorry, my keyboard today has a bad case of premature sending.
      “I long for the day when articles like this are historical curiosities.”

  4. [email protected]

    Is Neil Mitchell going to support women against men is he? Does Neil want to topple from his perch.

  5. Kate Sommerville

    The Herald Sun’s actions were in relation to Tessa Sulivan were awful. Maybe there will be a complaint to the Press Council or further legal action. The Herald Sun, 3AW and Jeff Kennett words and actions are typical, patriarchal stuff and maybe those three approaches will be dealt with or displaced by something fairer and more positive.

    I think it is unfair and irresponsible to drag something up that you (Stephen Mayne) said 17 years ago as well but social and mainstream media do this all the time. If they can demonstrate that old statements and actions are consistent over the years then maybe there is a point, but not otherwise.

    1. Arky

      The Herald Sun’s blatant hatchet job on Tessa Sullivan was appalling at the time let alone with the knowledge that the inquiry has backed her version of events.

      This is precisely the kind of behaviour that the Gillard government’s proposed media regulator could have tackled, instead the press collectively howled it down and insisted that the toothless Press Council is enough, and thus effectively collectively endorsed these sorts of actions by the Herald Sun. The standard you not only walk past but actively fight to protect is most certainly the standard you accept.

      1. Kate Sommerville

        Fair enough. I didn’t know about Julia Gillards proposed media reforms.
        Are the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph both Murdoch papers? The Telegraph has done some fairly horrendous things as well.
        Defamation actions with payouts don’t seem to change their behaviour either.

  6. Lord Muck

    Good point, Stephen. Doyle’s thanatosis is of the intermittent kind and, therefore, a cunning gambit albeit unsuccessful. There is another inquiry to be completed and it may not be the last. Well done to you in particular for exposing Doyle and his henchmen for what they are.

  7. Limited Through Mixed

    Just by accident I tuned into 3AW this morning to see how Mitchell would be reporting this issue. He came across as totally ‘bewildered’. The days of 3AW, the Hun and certain pollies ruling Melbourne and holding court are numbered (one hopes).

    1. The Curmudgeon

      This is an interesting point. As a retiree who has a reasonably active life, I keep wondering who are these people who have time to listen to talk-back radio all morning? It seems certain that those listening to 3AW (and possibly 3LO) and reading the Hun are dying off, day by day. Given modern media trends, they are not being replaced!

  8. JQ

    Yes, Stephen, his award for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia should definitely be removed as you suggest. After all, the council’s investigation was reasonably satisfied Mr Doyle engaged in sexually inappropriate conduct in his term of office as Lord Mayor. As noted in Ben Rimmer’s report, the investigators were “satisfied to a level which goes beyond mere likelihood that something happened.” We the public look forward to a court’s adjudication on whether this satisfies as a preponderance of evidence in a civil case or beyond reasonable doubt in a criminal case.
    Once we’ve taken his post-nominal, why not remove all images of Doyle from the public record for good measure? Having an intelligent discussion about inappropriate behaviour by men and women in the workforce and the role of alcohol would be so much harder.
    As a white, middle-aged man and the purveyor of supreme moral virtue in public service, shouldn’t you also retire your journalistic pen “to let a few women step up to the mic”? Society and men and women’s participation in it is a zero sum game after all.

    1. Bob the builder

      More proof of how vicious Limited News are if they get any criticism.

    2. The Curmudgeon

      Linking to paywalled sites not very useful. I have not knowingly paid for a Murdoch product since 11 November 1975.

      1. old greybearded one

        Agrred and Crikey worm does it all the time.

        1. old greybearded one

          Bugger. Agreed.

  9. zut alors

    In the wake of Harvey Weinstein & high profile males being accused of sexual harassment, I can think of only one who has immediately owned up & offered an apology ie: US comedian Louis C K.

    Apparently all the others were wrongly accused. Remarkable odds.

    1. JQ

      It seems highly likely Doyle did exactly as Sullivan and Oke allege. However this does not mean that all those accused are automatically guilty. This idea that all accusers should be believed is incredibly dangerous and supremely naive. Their accusations should be taken seriously and investigated, however we dispense with due process at our peril.

      1. zut alors

        I wasn’t suggesting all accusers are credible. But it’s extraordinary that only one male from a rather lengthy list has opted to come clean.

      2. [email protected]

        There are two issues here with a huge gap separating them. Just because Doyle is likely to have done what Sullivan has said was done does it make it 100 percent fair dinkum and true that it was sexual harassment? Surely not. Alcohol was involved was in not? Was alcohol involved with both people? So how can it be sexual harassment? Did someone force the alcohol onto them? No. Doesn’t everyone know that alcohol relaxes inhibitions. Everyone does. It has been proven over hundreds of years. Sullivan would know that?

        1. [email protected]

          Lets us investigate GAMBLING with poker machines. Millions of people have lost their money and pay packets. Not one person is blaming the Clubs and pubs and promoters of pokers machines. All Australia is blaming the Poker machine player for losing all this or her money. and we have millions of people, not one or two or three women. And women are also poker machine players. And Australia say every one of them is guilty and the clubs are innocent.

        2. JQ

          Perhaps the most logical and reasonable response to come out of this is the council’s decision to review it’s alcohol policy.
          On the regulation of sexuality in the workplace, consider the following thought experiment: say a business decides that flirting will no longer be allowed. If you create the rule, that means you’ve got to have flirtation police. Now who do you think are the kind of people who would want that role? And if flirtation is against policy, are employees compelled to report flirtation by their colleagues? So you’ve stopped flirtation because flirtation bad, but now you have an environment in which workmates inform on their colleagues and a bureaucracy of meddling into individuals’ sexual behaviour has been created. Who would want to work/live under such conditions?

          1. Bob the builder

            JQ, this is bullsh*t.
            Muddying the line between flirting and unwanted groping helps give the impression that someone wankers like Doyle just got the tone a bit wrong, took flirting “a bit far”.
            They’re two different things, and for those who can’t see that, then, yes, maybe you’ll have to give up your “flirting” until you acquire some social skills.

            It’s like saying if you had a rule against punching your colleagues you wouldn’t be allowed to shake their hand and there’d have to be hand-shaking police keeping an eye on things.
            Totally idiotic.

          2. JQ

            Oh, no no no, not what I was intending to imply. Groping etc is clearly unacceptable in the workplace (and most elsewhere too, of course), and everyone knows that. I meant in regards to the overarching debate/meetoo phenomenon. I guess that wasn’t particularly clear.
            Still, the question remains, if we’re going to regulate sexuality in the workplace, where do we set the boundaries? Hence the thought experiment. This is a complex issue. Simple solutions are bound to create sub-optinal solutions, plus a bunch of new and unexpected problems.

          3. JQ

            Also BtheB, you might be interested to learn that NBC has implemented a ban on hugging, and employees must report all colleagues engaging in “inappropriate relationships” to HR. This was in the wake of the Matt Lauer scandal.

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