Councillors accused of sexual harassment could be immediately stood down under proposed Victorian reforms following the Robert Doyle fallout.
City of Melbourne councillors on Tuesday unanimously agreed there were “gaps and potential sector-wide challenges” in dealing with sexual harassment complaints.
The council resolved to take its plan to the rest of the state at next month’s Municipal Association of Victoria state council meeting.
Councillor Rohan Leppert – a candidate in the byelection to replace former lord mayor Mr Doyle – said the city’s proposal did not directly relate to the bombshell sexual misconduct claims.
But he acknowledged that “certain things have been learned”.
Mr Doyle denies all allegations.
Councillor Cathy Oke, one of Mr Doyle’s accusers, said it would be “crazy” if the motion was not supported at state council.
It calls on the state government to overhaul the Local Government Act, which “makes no specific provision for misconduct that takes the form of sexual harassment”.
The act should include sexual harassment and sexual misconduct within the definitions of sexual misconduct, the motion said, and penalties should be strengthened.
“Councillor Codes of Conduct are currently not required to contain procedures relating to allegations of sexual harassment by or between councillors nor are they required to have failsafe mechanisms for use when the complaint is against the mayor,” a rationale for the motion said.
The code should ensure impartial initial dispute resolution, and clearly state when it is OK to bypass such initial procedures, according to the motion.
There are also calls for an update to code of conduct recommendations provided by the association.
“That [code of conduct] template … is certainly no longer fit for purpose and needs a thorough review,” Cr Leppert said on Tuesday.
Melbourne is reviewing its own code of conduct.
The city also wants the chief municipal inspector to have the power to stand down or tell an alleged perpetrator not to attend work while accusations are investigated.
Philip Le Liu said Town Hall could use the “unfortunate” allegations, which forced Mr Doyle’s resignation, to become a leader in the state.
“Other councils will be looking to us,” Cr Le Liu said on Tuesday.
Coral Ross, National President of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, said Melbourne’s proposal could have gone further.
“I would have preferred if there was a means for a councillor to ask somebody independent to investigate,” Cr Ross told The New Daily.
She said councillors should be able to take complaints directly to a state government-appointed commissioner, such as the Chief Municipal Inspector, to assess allegations.
“It takes it away from the council to have to make a decision, which can be a political place, and it also takes it away from the chief executive officer.”
Former councillor Tessa Sullivan took her allegations to Melbourne CEO Ben Rimmer late last year and resigned.
Mr Rimmer commissioned an independent investigation, which made four adverse findings last month. Mr Doyle stood down in December pending the investigation, and formally resigned in February.
“What happened in the case of Tessa, the CEO did commission a confidential investigation. What Tessa was not able to do was to actually make a complaint to somebody independent [of Town Hall],” Cr Ross said.
She said it was an “ideal opportunity” for the city to spark change across the state.
The New Daily approached Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz and the City of Melbourne.