Freckelton report released

Freckelton report released

By Sean Car

The findings of a report commissioned by the City of Melbourne investigating claims of sexual misconduct by former Lord Mayor Robert Doyle were made public on July 6 after Victoria Police dropped its investigation last month.

Victoria Police confirmed on June 25 that no charges would be laid against the 66-year-old following a two-year investigation by the Sexual Crimes Squad into a complaint made by Kharla Williams.

Mr Doyle resigned as Lord Mayor in 2018 following accusations of sexual harassment by two councillors, which he continues to deny. In 2018, a separate council-initiated investigation conducted by Dr Ian Freckelton QC found Mr Doyle’s conduct towards the two councillors could constitute sexual harassment and gross misconduct.

Ms Williams made a formal complaint to both the council and Victoria Police regarding separate allegations about Mr Doyle’s behaviour at a Melbourne Health dinner in 2016, which was also investigated by Dr Freckelton.

After resigning, Mr Doyle’s lawyers launched Supreme Court action preventing the council from publishing the findings of that investigation, which was later withdrawn in 2019. Then newly-appointed CEO Justin Hanney said last year that the findings would be made available to Ms Williams once the police investigation had concluded – a promise he reiterated on June 25.

And on July 6, a supplementary report of the independent investigation was released by Mr Hanney at the consent of Ms Williams.

The report concluded that, based on the Briginshaw standard (considering the seriousness of the findings and their potential consequences), Mr Doyle behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards Ms Williams at a Melbourne Health event on June 25, 2016.

The report found Mr Doyle, who attended the event as Lord Mayor and Melbourne Health chairman, behaved in a “sleazy” and “sexually inappropriate way” towards Ms Williams, who was attending the event with her then-fiancé Dr Mark Walterfang, who was seated on the other side of her.

Mr Doyle was accused of repeatedly placing his hand on the inside of the leg of Ms Williams, who was seated next to him. He was also accused of speaking to her in a “sleazy and inappropriate way” and placing his hand on her lower back near her buttocks after drinking “substantial amounts of red wine”.

In his report, Ian Freckelton, QC, found the allegations raised by Ms Williams and Dr Walterfang to be “compellingly credible”.

“I have reached the firm conclusion that their accounts are compellingly credible,” Dr Freckelton wrote. “There was no justification whatsoever for Mr Doyle’s behaviour — it was completely inappropriate and there was no contextual legitimacy for it.”

“It was opportunistic and occurred in circumstances of significant power imbalance between Mr Doyle and Ms Williams.”

“Mr Doyle’s conduct was foreseeably highly distressing and was fundamentally inconsistent with the dignity of the office of Lord Mayor and the reasonable expectations of the public as to how a Lord Mayor should behave.”

Dr Freckelton noted in the report that between January and August 2018, Mr Doyle was invited on numerous occasions to attend an interview, speak to investigators on the phone and provide evidence and submissions through his solicitor.

“In the period of 14 months commencing January 17, 2018 Mr Doyle did not avail himself of any of the options offered to him to participate in the investigation,” Dr Freckelton wrote.

“Instead he asserted through his solicitors that the allegations raised by Ms Williams did not fall within the terms of reference for the investigation and that he has not been well enough to respond to what has been alleged against him.”

“He has had ample and fair opportunity to provide accounts of events. Put another way, he has been extended full natural justice and procedural fairness.”

Robert Doyle didn’t respond to Southbank News for comment.

City of Melbourne CEO Justin Hanney said the issues that confronted the council in 2017 and 2018 were “very serious” and it had since taken significant steps to improve its workplace.

“We acknowledge the great courage shown by the women – including Ms Williams – who called out the behaviour of Mr Doyle and came forward,” he said.

“Our organisation and those who represent it must ensure that the working environment is safe, equitable and free from sexual harassment.” 

Since the events, he noted that the council had taken significant steps to improve our workplace policies and processes, including: 

A new code of conduct for councillors 

A suite of new policies and protocols to report sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, and in relation to the consumption of alcohol 

The introduction of an Independent Adviser to support councillors in reporting complaints of inappropriate conduct

Councillor training and education on new policies and ways to report misconduct

Successfully advocating for changes to the Local Government Act 2020.

“We commit to our staff and community that we will continue to hold ourselves accountable and uphold a culture that does not tolerate misconduct and supports the calling out of unacceptable behaviour of all types,” Mr Hanney said •

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