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What’s behind the lights?

Doyle has done the right thing

08 Feb 2018

Doyle has done the right thing Image

By Stephen Mayne

Robert Doyle has made the correct call to end his record-breaking, nine-year run as lord mayor of Melbourne.

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 – gave detailed formal evidence against him, plus had their stories made public.

There were more stories to be told and, if Cr Doyle hadn’t voluntarily resigned, a majority of councillors will have almost certainly stepped up and called for such a move at a council or committee meeting before the end of February.

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

The next move is for his loyal deputy Arron Wood to also resign so that fresh elections for the entire two-person leadership ticket can be held. This will also allow Cr Wood to contest the lord mayoral election. But he needs to be quick so the Victorian Electoral Commission can make the necessary arrangements.

The remnants of Team Doyle – Crs Kevin Louey, Susan Riley, Nicholas Reece and Beverley Pinder – should all now resolve to sit as independents. Without Robert Doyle there should be no Team Doyle. Tellingly, both Crs Pinder and Riley had earlier indicated to Southbank Local News that they believed Mr Doyle 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 individuals asking public questions at council committee meetings and another 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 former lord mayor was given a copy of the draft Freckelton report 72 hours before CEO Rimmer received his copy. This was for fact checking and right of reply purposes. Ill-health was cited as a reason for his earlier inaction but he has now done the right thing and resigned.

The Sullivan dossier was delivered to the former lord mayor a week before he appeared before Freckelton on January 5. Interestingly, Ben Rimmer did not show Mr Doyle a copy of the dossier before commissioning Freckelton or securing his December 17 concession to stand down for a month.

Now that Mr Doyle has seen the Freckelton report, it is interesting that he is casting doubt on the process. This is not a wise strategy as 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.

Blaming the women involved is a similarly unwise strategy and will come back to bite him.

The State Government, potentially through the Local Government Minister or Municipal Inspector David Wolff, will be supplied a full copy of the report and remain the ultimate kingmakers in this situation.

Mr Doyle’s strong personal relationship with Premier Daniel Andrews has now becomes moot as he has also resigned from his 10-year stint as chair of Melbourne Health. The state’s investigation by Charles Scerri QC continues until at least mid-February.

It was far better to resign than be sacked which is what would have probably happened at Melbourne Health if he tried to fight on. And once that domino had fallen, Town Hall would inevitably have been next, particularly given the powers held by the State Government.

Stephen Mayne is a former councillor.

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