One of former lord mayor Robert Doyle’s accusers has choked back tears at the first City of Melbourne meeting since sexual harassment allegations were made against him seven weeks ago.
Addressing a packed Town Hall on Tuesday night, Greens Councillor Cathy Oke said she felt “deep frustration” that a report into the investigation was not yet completed.
Cr Oke backed her “brave” co-accuser, former councillor Tessa Sullivan, who first sparked the investigation into Mr Doyle when she levelled allegations against him and resigned in December.
“I continue to feel disempowered to speak, nor have the ability to speak on behalf of a colleague who is very brave,” Cr Oke said.
“Victims should not see their only option before them is to resign to seek justice.”
She said every woman who has experienced inappropriate behaviour should come forward, but said she would “never pressure another woman to tell their story, or how they should tell their story”.
This is not about politics. This is about people.
Despite Cr Oke’s frustration, she said she understood the toll the investigation had taken on people and the need to give it time.
She said it was premature to have a “full and frank conversation” in the meantime.
Cr Oke welcomed a review of the Councillor Code of Conduct, which does not specifically address sexual harassment.
Mr Doyle formally resigned on Monday after releasing statements from his lawyer and wife to the media on Sunday.
He has maintained his innocence.
At the City of Melbourne meeting on Tuesday night, chief executive Ben Rimmer said he aimed to make public the final report, independently investigated by Dr Ian Freckelton, QC.
Mr Rimmer defended the integrity of the investigation, after Mr Doyle claimed to have been denied natural justice, procedural fairness and the presumption of innocence.
He said he was “extremely concerned” when Ms Sullivan first made the allegations, and commended her courage.
Mr Rimmer said City of Melbourne should have an environment where complainants felt safe to come forward, and said he had tried to dissuade Ms Sullivan from resigning.
But the challenge gave the council the opportunity to improve and reflect on its policies for positive change, he said, in a point echoed by Acting Lord Mayor Arron Wood.
Cr Wood said it was not an issue just affecting council or the sector, but that the world was seeing a generational change.
He thanked Mr Doyle and Ms Sullivan for their service to the city.
Councillor Nicolas Frances Gilley said the ordeal had been “difficult and confronting” for many at Town Hall, and that media reports had been “extraordinarily frightening” for those involved.
He thanked Cr Oke for her strength, and Ms Sullivan for her willingness to take a stand.
“Our behaviours, particularly the behaviours of men, have not been what the public should expect, or what we should expect of ourselves,” Cr Gilley said.
He added it was a chance for everyone, irrespective of the investigation’s findings, to reflect on their actions.
Cr Gilley acknowledged the drawn-out investigation was “inconvenient and painful”, but said it needed to be given the time it deserved to ensure justice was served for all parties.
Councillor Philip Le Liu said he hoped “brave” Ms Sullivan “finds peace”, and hoped she would not be deterred from pursuing public office again.
Mr Doyle’s lawyer Nick Ruskin from K&L Gates on Sunday said the 64-year-old would be immediately hospitalised to recover from the toll the investigation took on his health.
“He has been through a period which he feels has lacked any semblance of natural justice, where the burden of proof does not rest with proving guilt, but rather with proving innocence,” the lawyer said in a statement.
Mr Doyle’s wife, Emma Page Campbell, has stood by the “good and decent man”.
Mr Doyle also resigned as chair of Melbourne Health.
A date for the election of a Melbourne lord mayor has not yet been set.