Lord Mayor Robert Doyle faces fresh allegation of sexual harassment by a second Melbourne City councillor, Cathy Oke

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle Photo: Eddie Jim
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle Photo: Eddie Jim

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is facing a fresh allegation of sexual harassment by a second Melbourne City councillor, Cathy Oke, who has told an independent investigation that he tried to kiss her while they were in his office.

Cr Oke had also told an investigation into Cr Doyle's behaviour that he clutched her thigh under a table in a separate incident.

It comes as Cr Doyle – who has denied all allegations against him – launched a public campaign to restore his reputation, hiring a public relations firm to work for him. The firm on Monday released text messages between Cr Doyle and former councillor Tessa Sullivan.

Ms Sullivan was elected to Melbourne City Council in 2016 as part of Team Doyle.

She resigned in December, saying Cr Doyle had sexually harassed and indecently assaulted her, including grasping her breast and making sexually explicit comments.

Cr Oke, a Greens member, has now given evidence to Ian Freckelton QC as part of the investigation launched by Melbourne City Council into the sexual harassment allegations.

Melbourne City councillor Cathy Oke with Greens MP Adam Bandt (right) and former Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber.  Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Melbourne City councillor Cathy Oke with Greens MP Adam Bandt (right) and former Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

Cr Oke has told Dr Freckelton she had experienced multiple instances of harassment by Cr Doyle.

These include a 2014 incident where Cr Doyle is alleged to have clutched Cr Oke's upper thigh under a table at a Little Collins Street restaurant during interviews with the two final candidates for a job as the council's chief executive.

This incident was witnessed by former councillor Stephen Mayne, who has been interviewed by Dr Freckelton.

Cr Oke is also understood to have given evidence to Dr Freckelton that, in early 2017, Cr Doyle had invited her into his office at Town Hall and attempted to kiss her.

Ms Sullivan is also understood to have told the investigation about what she knew of the incident.

A friend of Ms Sullivan's, Alicia Chisholm, has also given a statement to the Freckelton investigation. That statement says that acting lord mayor, Arron Wood, disclosed to Ms Chisholm he knew of Cr Doyle's alleged attempt to kiss Cr Oke.

The Age asked Cr Wood if he recalled making this statement about the allegation. A council spokeswoman said: "We are not responding to questions of this nature while the investigation is ongoing."

The Lord Mayor said via a spokeswoman on Monday that he and Cr Oke had a "very warm, collegiate and professional relationship".

"They will often greet one another with a kiss, but any suggestion beyond that is simply untrue and categorically denied."

News of the allegation came as Cr Doyle began a campaign to resurrect his reputation.

Until Monday, Cr Doyle had been silent. But, having given his evidence on Friday to Dr Freckelton, Cr Doyle began work to restore his standing.

He has hired corporate reputation and public relations firm Newgate. Cr Doyle also approached crisis communication experts Bastian, but the firm did not take the job.

Cr Doyle's spokeswoman, Miche​ Paterson from Newgate, provided media with a series of text messages between Cr Doyle and Ms Sullivan, sent between July and November.

The texts were provided as evidence Ms Sullivan and Cr Doyle were still on cordial terms during some of the period she alleged the harassment was taking place.

The texts indicate Ms Sullivan was friendly and polite in her dealings with Cr Doyle during this period. One, from September, refers to him as "darl". Another, from July 2017, is shared between the six Team Doyle councillors and includes a picture of Ms Sullivan in a bikini with one of her sons.

Another text message from Ms Sullivan said she was "devastated" Cr Doyle could not attend a Christmas event she was throwing for councillors.

Fairfax Media left a message with Cr Doyle on Monday. He did not call back. A request was also made to his public relations company for an interview with the Lord Mayor. Ms Paterson indicated this would not be possible.

- The Age