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Why Robert Doyle should resign

05 Feb 2018

By Stephen Mayne

The imminent end of Robert Doyle’s record-breaking nine year run as Lord Mayor of Melbourne hadn’t happened when this column was first written but, make no doubt about it, it is inevitable.

There are now four separate women – ex councillor Tessa Sullivan, current councillor Cathy Oke, the un-named partner of a Melbourne Health specialist and Dianne Mallas, a former constituent in Cr Doyle’s state seat of Malvern – who have given detailed formal evidence against the Lord Mayor, plus had their stories made public.

There are more stories to be told, such that if Cr Doyle doesn’t voluntarily resign, a majority of councillors will almost certainly step up and call for such a move at a council or committee meeting before the end of February, potentially even at the opening committee meeting on February 6.

Councillors can’t sack each other but if enough Team Doyle councillors choose to stand by their man, they run the risk of the whole council being sacked by the State Government.

The cleanest outcome would be for Cr Doyle and his loyal deputy Arron Wood to both resign before the February 6 committee meeting so that fresh elections for the entire two person leadership ticket can be held. The remnants of Team Doyle – Crs Kevin Louey, Susan Riley, Nicholas Reece and Beverley Pinder – should then resolve to sit as independents. Without Robert Doyle there should be no Team Doyle. Tellingly, both Crs Pinder and Riley have indicated to Docklands News that they believe the Lord Mayor should move on.

If trying to make a fresh start, it would be unreasonable for a new directly elected Lord Mayor to be saddled with 10 Doyle-era councillors, including Doyle’s hand-picked deputy.

If Cr Wood hangs on as deputy and there is only a by-election to find a new Lord Mayor, he’ll face an avalanche of questions about what he knew about Town Hall culture.

Cr Wood is not a career politician – he’s an emerging board director and a talented communicator and educator on environmental issues who should return to his first love on a full-time basis. This would clear the way for fresh blood and potentially an all-female ticket that would deliver a first ever majority of female councillors. The likes of Bulldogs director Susan Alberti and Property Council CEO Sally Capp are two names that have come up as potential lord mayoral candidates. If there is a by-election, expect past candidates such as Ken Ong, Phil Cleary and Gary Morgan to contest.

There will be various individuals asking questions at the February 6 committee meeting and the other loyal male Doyle supporter who will come under significant pressure is Kevin Louey, the quietly spoken chief Doyle fundraiser who has occupied the top position on the Team Doyle council ticket for the past two elections.

The view of Tessa Sullivan will be pivotal. If she details a lack of support or protection during her time on council and calls for additional resignations from her old council faction, it will be hard to resist.

Much will turn on the contents of her 35-page dossier and what investigator Ian Freckelton QC says in his report.

The Lord Mayor was due to be given a copy of the draft Freckelton report 72 hours before CEO Rimmer received his copy. This is for fact checking and right of reply purposes, but it will also represent a resignation window.

A similar process occurred with the Sullivan dossier which was delivered to the Lord Mayor a week before he appeared before Freckelton on January 5. Interestingly, Ben Rimmer did not show Cr Doyle a copy of the dossier before commissioning Freckelton or securing the Lord Mayor’s December 17 concession to stand down for a month.

Once he has a copy of the Freckelton report, the Lord Mayor will have options, including to threaten litigation if the report is released. However, the public interest is so overwhelming that, at the very least, the City of Melbourne will have to release a summary of its key findings, which will include my evidence that I saw the Lord Mayor grope Cr Oke under a table on December 8, 2014.

The State Government, potentially through the Local Government Minister or Municipal Inspector David Wolff, will no doubt get a full copy of the report and remains the ultimate kingmaker in this situation.

Whilst the Lord Mayor has a strong personal relationship with Premier Daniel Andrews, it is ominous that the Health Minister Jill Hennessy commissioned a separate QC to investigate complaints made about his 10-year stint as chair of Melbourne Health. This investigation by Charles Scerri QC will remain on foot into mid-February, by which time the Lord Mayor should have already resigned from all public positions.

It’s far better to resign than be sacked and that is what will probably happen at Melbourne Health if he tries to fight on. And once that domino falls, Town Hall would inevitably be next, particularly given the powers held by the State Government.

Stephen Mayne is a former councillor.

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