Robert Doyle harassment claims upheld: Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer issues statement

By David Donaldson

March 14, 2018

Claims of “sexually inappropriate conduct” against former Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle have been upheld following an investigation.

The investigation, led by Dr Ian Freckelton QC, made four adverse findings against Doyle, relating to complaints made by former councillor Tessa Sullivan and Councillor Cathy Oke.

The investigation found that Doyle deliberately placed his hand on Sullivan’s breast in a car on one occasion.

Another time he move his hand “in a sexually inappropriate manner” on Oke’s inner thigh. On a third occasion he invited Oke into his office, embraced her and attempted to kiss her.

In each of these instances Doyle had consumed substantial amounts of red wine, the investigation found.

The report noted that no findings have been made by a court, but that Doyle’s conduct could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct.

Doyle resigned from the council in February. He has repeatedly denied all accusations against him.

A number of other unspecified claims made by Sullivan were unable to be verified to the standard set by the investigation.

On Tuesday the council unanimously supported a motion stating that “as a council, we are united in ensuring such behaviour does not occur again,” and expressing hope that “this difficult period for the city can serve as an example to other organisations and pave the way for significant reform”.

City of Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer has released a summary report, but will not release the full report as it contains confidential information.

“On behalf of Council, I would always strongly encourage any women who consider that they have been the subject of inappropriate conduct to speak up and report such behaviour to the appropriate authorities,” he said in a statement.

You can read Rimmer’s full statement below:

On Friday 15 December 2017, Ms Tessa Sullivan made serious allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct against the then-Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle.

While I took these allegations extremely seriously, they required further investigation in order to establish the facts before determining what further action a public official in my position should reasonably and responsibly take.

Considering my obligations to ensure a safe workplace, and the seriousness of the allegations, I commissioned an independent external investigation of these matters, led by Dr Ian Freckelton QC.

The investigation was conducted in accordance with natural justice principles. In particular, given the seriousness of the allegations made, the investigator was required to be comfortably satisfied of specific allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct that related to Mr Doyle in his role as Lord Mayor. The investigation was not a judicial process and all participants engaged on a voluntary basis. While Mr Doyle agreed to participate in the process and did so until late January, the investigation process was delayed as a result of Mr Doyle’s serious ill health.

On Sunday 11 March, Dr Freckelton provided his report relating to allegations raised by Ms Sullivan and Councillor Cathy Oke. Today is therefore the first opportunity I have to provide an update to Council about the facts as found by the investigation. It is anticipated there will be a further report, relating to a third complainant, when Mr Doyle is well enough to provide a response regarding those matters. For the time being that phase of the investigation is suspended.

I have provided a summary of the outcomes to a Special Council Meeting today, and through Council to the public, providing as much transparency as is appropriate in the circumstances. Ms Sullivan and Councillor Oke have been informed about the outcome of their respective complaints.

The report made four adverse findings. Those findings relate to conduct that is inconsistent with the values of the organisation. It is clearly in the public interest for the outcomes of the investigation to be made public and that has been achieved today. The full report will not be publicly released: it contains personal and health information provided on a voluntary and confidential basis, and its release would cause unnecessary harm and distress to a wide range of people.

Mr Doyle resigned as Lord Mayor on Monday 5 February this year. Had he remained in his elected position of Lord Mayor, it would undoubtedly have been necessary for the Council and I to consider what further action to take in light of the adverse findings.

Given Mr Doyle is no longer in office, it is necessary to examine further measures to ensure appropriate levels of workplace safety for Councillors in the future. Those actions commenced through the resolutions of Council’s Future Melbourne Committee concerning this matter on Tuesday 6 February, which included a review of the Councillor Code of Conduct, engagement with the Victorian Government and a review of all City of Melbourne administrative policies referencing Councillors including the Drug and Alcohol policy.

Ms Sullivan took a very significant and courageous personal step in coming forward and raising her concerns with me and therefore precipitating this investigation. It is a matter of regret that Ms Sullivan felt she had no alternative than to resign as a Councillor. Ms Sullivan’s complaint was taken extremely seriously from the moment she raised it with the administration, whose role is to support all eleven Councillors. Her complaint precipitated a process through which a number of opportunities for reform were identified with respect to the manner in which allegations of this nature are handled.

On behalf of Council, I would always strongly encourage any women who consider that they have been the subject of inappropriate conduct to speak up and report such behaviour to the appropriate authorities.

I would like to thank the Acting Lord Mayor and Councillors for their support of each other and of the Council administration during this difficult period. I would also like to thank the investigators, Dr Freckelton QC and Ms Sarah Keating, and the city’s legal advisers, for their diligence and professionalism during this process.

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