A long-serving Melbourne councillor has spoken out in support of her “capable and sophisticated” former colleague Tessa Sullivan, saying sexual harassment allegations against Lord Mayor Robert Doyle are “very serious”.
Ms Sullivan has accused Cr Doyle of sexual harassment, indecent assault and misconduct, prompting him to stand down for one month while an independent investigation is carried out for the council by Dr Ian Freckleton QC.
Ms Sullivan resigned from her position at the City of Melbourne on Friday.
Cr Doyle has described the allegations as “thoroughly abhorrent”.
Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle has stood aside temporarily following the accusations. (774 ABC Melbourne: Simon Leo Brown)
“My decision to take leave must not be interpreted as any concession or admission,” he said in a statement on Twitter on Sunday.
“What is important now is that proper process be allowed to take place and that the rights of all involved are respectfully handled.”
Jackie Watts, who has been a councillor for more than six years, told 3AW she had previously made bullying allegations on the public record against Cr Doyle but they were not pursued further.
Dr Watts said their relationship was now “cordial and professional”.
She said she had spoken to Ms Sullivan on the phone and offered her support.
“We are all shocked and of course Tessa is feeling it greatly,” Dr Watts said.
“I think it would be a very difficult time for her, it takes a very brave woman to speak up in this way.”
She said considering the character of Ms Sullivan — a lawyer and married mother of three — the allegations had to be taken seriously.
“Against a Lord Mayor with this experience and with a well-educated and capable and sophisticated councillor, one has to take these allegations very seriously,” Dr Watts said.
“I am confident that the CEO at the City of Melbourne is taking this very seriously indeed.”
Dr Freckelton QC said he had started investigating the allegations and the findings would be returned “as soon as possible”.
“There is no specific time frame but it will be completed as quickly as possible consistent with extending fairness to all involved,” he said.
The final report will be handed to the council’s chief executive, Ben Rimmer.
“It will be his decision what does with my report,” Dr Freckelton QC said.
Cr Doyle said he would cooperate fully with the council’s investigation “to clear my name”.
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