robert-doyle
Former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle

With impeccable timing, Crikey published a snippet in yesterday’s edition pointing out that former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle still hadn’t been interviewed by Victoria Police more than two-and-a-half years after sexual assault allegations were first levelled against him by councillor Tessa Sullivan, a member of his Team Doyle faction at Town Hall.

Just a couple of hours after the edition went out, Victoria Police issued a statement confirming that no charges would be brought against the 66-year-old from South Melbourne, even though three separate women, excluding Sullivan, had filed police complaints against him.

The Age’s Chip Le Grand reported yesterday that “the investigation ended after the Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd, QC, reviewed the evidence and assessed there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.”

But how can the police evidence be in a position to be reviewed when the alleged perpetrator has been at large for the past two years, refusing to be interviewed by police on medical grounds despite being spotted at an Albert Park cafe.

Robert Doyle AC was one of the highest profile casualties of the Me Too movement in Australia, but this outcome shows that the system has a long way to go.

For starters, he has retained his AC despite the four findings against him recorded by independent City of Melbourne investigator Ian Freckleton QC.

An 800 word summary of the Freckleton report was released in March 2018 validating the Tessa Sullivan complaint, and council is now under pressure to release Freckleton’s separate report into complaints another woman, Kharla Williams, made about Doyle’s conduct at a 2016 Melbourne Health dinner.

Council CEO Justin Hanney released a statement yesterday undertaking to disclose the findings of this report to Williams, which is not the same as making the full council-funded report public.

The system certainly doesn’t treat all parties equally. City of Melbourne’s insurers spent hundreds of thousands paying Doyle’s legal expenses for many months after he had resigned whereas Tessa Sullivan footed her own six figure legal bill — and there has been negligible public funding for the other Doyle victims who have come forward.

It’s expensive, time consuming and stressful, so why would you bother coming forward if a police complaint doesn’t even lead to Doyle being questioned before the whole process is abandoned?

The reverberations from the Doyle scandal will continue to impact Town Hall all the way through to October’s elections, mainly because five of the 11 remaining councillors were members of Team Doyle, although they have now split.

A contentious vote last Tuesday on the state government’s proposed second drug injecting facility near council’s iconic Queen Victoria Market brought the divisions into sharp relief.

Doyle’s deputy lord mayor, Cr Arron Wood, feels aggrieved at how he’s been treated by Doyle’s successor, independent Sally Capp, over the past two years and is preparing to run against her.

Wood put up a motion on Tuesday rejecting the QVM location and was backed by fellow former Team Doyle colleagues Cr Bev Pinder and Cr Susan Riley.

However, Capp circulated an alternative motion five minutes before the council meeting commenced and after Wood’s motion was defeated 6-4, her proposal to not directly rule out the QVM site and seek further consultation with the state government prevailed 6-4, including support from former Team Doyle members Nicholas Reece and veteran Kevin Louey.

Reece, a former Labor State Secretary in Victoria best known for his appearances as a rare progressive voice on Sky News, is widely tipped to be running as Capp’s deputy at the October elections with Kevin Louey also expected to be on the Capp ticket courtesy of his impeccable Chinese community connections and fundraising capacity.

There will be a separate official Labor ticket — the lord mayoral candidate being Slater & Gordon executive Phil Reed — which is expected to preference the Capp-Reece leadership ticket in exchange for their support in the separate council election as Labor strives to officially secure up to two of the 11 seats on the council.

As Arron Wood warned in this provocative interview with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Wednesday morning, Capp appears to be working closely with the Labor state government.

She will need to be careful not to be branded a Labor stooge given the voting gerrymander business interests enjoy at City of Melbourne.

As Lord Mayor, Capp has walked a middle ground in progressive inner-city Melbourne. A lawyer by profession, she was the first female director of the Collingwood Football Club and was appointed Victoria’s Agent General in London by John Brumby, only to later joined the Liberal Party to support Josh Frydenberg in Kooyong. Before running for Lord Mayor she was CEO of the Property Council and has deep business connections.

However, as a mayor without any numbers on council, she has supported progressive causes such as declaring a climate emergency, embracing a step-change investment in bike paths and even pursuing inclusionary zoning to deliver more social housing, a policy which is anathema to her old property developer employers.

Can she be beaten? It is unlikely, although blokey Mildura boy Arron Wood in clearly lining up to have a go — despite the baggage of being Doyle’s hand-picked deputy and the reluctance of voters to boot a first time female lord mayor out of office when it has been 30 years since the last female lord mayor served.

Stephen Mayne is a former City of Melbourne councillor

Peter Fray

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