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Tram shame

Doyle drama – how did it happen?

08 Feb 2018

Doyle drama – how did it happen? Image

Opinion, by Shane Scanlan

Tessa Sullivan’s resignation on December 15 was not a surprise. But her decision to take down Robert Doyle was a shock.

Ms Sullivan never appeared really comfortable as a councillor. Inexperience is one thing, but she seemed particularly sensitive and unsuited to the rough and tumble of politics.

Was she doing it to make the world a better place in some small way? Her public performance offered no real clue about why she was making the considerable sacrifice to take on the role.

She had a shaky start, charged with leading a universally-unpopular policy position to amend a local law to redefine rough sleeping. Her more senior colleagues were supportive and protective.

Just what she was expecting when she accepted Robert Doyle’s invitation to join his 2016 election team, only she could say. And she has never spoken to Southbank Local News – about anything! But I think it’s fair to say that her expectations were poles apart from the former lord mayor’s.

Again, one can only guess …. so here’s my best guess of how this all went so horribly wrong (with no assertion about the actual facts of the matter).

As a bright young woman, Ms Sullivan was an attractive recruit for Team Doyle (even if her inclusion in a winnable position on the ticket was at the expense of two former female councillors). And she had the requisite cash to contribute to the campaign.

But was she expected to make a meaningful contribution to policy formulation or merely make up the numbers?

Her contribution to debate within the council chamber would suggest that she wasn’t being asked by “the team” to do much. Was this a source of frustration for someone who signed on to do more?

Did she get the support and guidance from “team leadership” to develop her into an effective councillor?

Or did she get “Bad Robert” – not just in the sensational sexual misconduct allegations sense, but in the day-to-day, garden-variety bullying sense?

Robert Doyle takes an aggressive position with people who don’t agree with him. It’s how he’s wired. Many a public questioner at public meetings has been shocked and humiliated by his caustic responses.

Perhaps Ms Sullivan started finding herself on the wrong end of some of this treatment?

And then there’s Mr Doyle’s reputation for drinking. To the uninitiated, it is difficult to tell whether or not he’s had a “long lunch”. This is testament to his unquestionable talent as an orator and debater.

But it appears that it also lets him down at times. These times, I suspect, include such moments of harassment/assault alleged by Ms Sullivan.

It’s not an excuse but a possible explanation of how his world has come tumbling down.

The way things were progressing, Robert Doyle was staring over a cliff. His career, reputation, relationships, board positions, future earnings, pride, reason for being – pretty much everything – was at stake.

Is it wrong then, to hope that there is more to come to explain Ms Sullivan’s reasons for starting the fire that consumed him? What else is in the 35-page dossier of allegations which she is believed to have compiled and presented to council management?

Motivation is important here.

Is it personal and vengeful? Or was Ms Sullivan motivated as a gender war warrior – taking a stand for women everywhere against the oppressive patriarchy?

At what point are the consequences commensurate with her allegations? On the little we know via The Age about what Cr Doyle is alleged to have done and said to her? With the addition of what we are told about what happened to Cathy Oke (and do we assume that Cr Oke consented to be drawn into this inquiry)?

The councillors, the city – even the state – have been damaged by this drama. Will it be worth it when it finally plays out?

If it’s part of a broader battle about gender equality then, no doubt, many would not consider such fallout as consequential. To even raise the prospect that the outcome may be disproportionate may invite criticism.

Ultimately, an inquiry that excludes public scrutiny (however well motivated) works against everyone involved – both the accused and the accusers. We are left guessing about too many important questions.

In times-not-so-long-passed, everything would still be "okay". But changing times, standards and values have overtaken events.

When Mr Doyle was a boy, the worst thing you could be called was a communist. In centuries past, reputations were ruined without the requirement for due process by the accusation of heresy or witchcraft.

To be struck down by the #metoo global phenomenon would have come totally out of the blue.

To be struck down by his own creation is epic mythology for the ages.

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