News State Victoria ‘The minibar has gotta go’: Councillors respond to Robert Doyle investigation
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‘The minibar has gotta go’: Councillors respond to Robert Doyle investigation

The independent investigation was sparked by allegations put forward in December by former councillor Tessa Sullivan.
Robert Doyle resigned last month, sparking an upcoming byelection for lord mayor. Photo: AAP
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A minibar in the office of Melbourne’s lord mayor could be among the first things to go after an investigation found Robert Doyle sexually harassed and inappropriately touched his colleagues.

Councillor Nicholas Reece said there was a “very long-standing practice” at Town Hall to serve alcohol after Tuesday’s council meeting and there had been times when a “councillor drank more than probably their fill”.

“There is a minibar, for example, in the office of the lord mayor which is straight out of the 1980s,” Mr Reece told 3AW radio on Wednesday.

“That’s gotta go.”

Ian Freckelton QC’s investigation for the City of Melbourne into claims made by former councillor Tessa Sullivan and councillor Cathy Oke found four adverse findings against the long-serving mayor.

A summary report, released on Tuesday, found Mr Doyle grabbed Ms Sullivan’s breast in May when the pair were in a chauffer-driven mayoral car.

The report also found Mr Doyle touched Cr Oke’s inner thigh several times in 2014 and attempted to kiss her in his office following a meeting in late 2016 or early 2017.

Mr Doyle denies the findings.

Cr Oke is pictured addressing City of Melbourne council chambers when the summary report was handed down.
Cr Oke is pictured addressing City of Melbourne council chambers when the summary report was handed down. Photo: AAP

The report called for a review of the council’s alcohol consumption, after finding all incidents happened after Mr Doyle had consumed “substantial amounts of red wine”.

The council is reviewing its code of conduct, which currently requires councillors to take up disputes with the lord mayor.

Mr Reece agreed things at Town Hall needed changing.

“Under the code of conduct they had nowhere to go,” he said of Ms Sullivan and Cr Oke.

The state’s peak local government body, the Municipal Association of Victoria, said the report findings were “deeply concerning” and praised the bravery of the complainants.

But the association’s president Mary Lalios said the findings highlighted shortcomings with local government laws.

Cr Lalios said allowing councils to manage breaches of councillor conduct through resolving them internally was flawed in certain cases.

“Where there are rare and regrettable instances of councillor behaviour – such as sexual harassment – alternative procedures should be available so complaints can be raised without fear in a safe and support manner,” Cr Lalios said.

She said it was important women were not left feeling vulnerable in their jobs because of inadequate safeguards against inappropriate behaviour.

In a statement, Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz said the issues identified were a matter for the City of Melbourne.

“Every person has a right to feel safe and secure in their workplace,” Ms Kairouz said.

“The City of Melbourne will consider this report’s findings and determine the next steps.”

The former mayor quit his job in February after being hospitalised for stress-related conditions. He continues to deny the allegations.

Complainants respond

Cr Oke said she was proud she had come forward, but wishes she had done it sooner.

“Since we only got the summary of the report yesterday, to be honest I’m not sure what I feel. I am quite emotional still,” Cr Oke told ABC Radio.

“The thing that makes me so sad – and why it’s very difficult for me to talk about it – is because it’s a very personal wrestle in my brain about why I didn’t say something, or why I didn’t speak up earlier.

“Even though I’ve been in local government politics for almost 10 years, and I consider myself a very strong and an intelligent woman, why is it that those power structures within politics stop someone even like me speaking out?”

Ms Sullivan said she felt vindicated the “vulgar” and “vile” actions were upheld by the report.