“It’s taken over 12 months and no outcome,” she said. “I made a complaint, came forward and the investigation that I trusted and had absolute faith in – in hindsight I would look back and think blind faith – is asking me, the victim, to be silent and basically go away.”
“In that meeting basically it just felt that it was how Melbourne City Council could contain this and just move on. It was very similar to the Melbourne Health investigation – to be seen as doing the right thing publicly, but really not.”
Ms Williams said she had confidence the police would be able to probe the complaints more thoroughly than civil processes that relied on the cooperation of the alleged perpetrator.
“I am not going to be silenced,” she said. “The faith that I have in the police investigation is that they can investigate these particular complaints if these individuals come forward. The scope is broader.”
Victoria Police confirmed a complaint was lodged and said they were speaking to a number of women about historical sexual matters.
“A complaint was made to Victoria Police yesterday,” a spokesman said on Sunday. “Victoria Police has spoken with a number of women in relation to historical sexual assault matters. At this time it is only in the preliminary stages and matter is under assessment.”
Ms Williams contacted the city’s investigation, led by Ian Freckleton QC, into Mr Doyle about her own experience after reading of former councillor Tessa Sullivan’s complaints against him. She said she would never have participated in that investigation if it had been made clear the city could not compel Mr Doyle to respond.
“Twelve months ago had I known all of this it would have been best served just going straight to the police,” she said.
“Perhaps I deserve an apology from not only Robert Doyle, but an apology from Melbourne City council and Melbourne Health.”
A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said things had changed during the course of Mr Freckleton’s investigation.
“When the complainant made her allegation, the circumstances of the independent investigation were fundamentally different,” the spokeswoman said.
“Mr Doyle was still in office and was responding and freely participating in Dr Freckleton’s investigation of other matters. He also had not foreshadowed or taken any legal action against the City of Melbourne.”
A two-day Supreme Court trial due to commence next week will hear lawyers for Mr Doyle argue to prevent the city from publicly releasing any updated Freckleton report. They will say that because Mr Doyle did not attend the function as lord mayor, the city has no authority to investigate him. Mr Doyle resigned as mayor last February.
Employers’ and organisations’ hands are often tied when confronted by accusations of sexual harassment, as in the interest of natural justice they cannot do anything if the alleged perpetrator fails to respond to the allegations. This leaves victims hanging.
But Ms Williams’ case shows that sexual harassment is a workplace health and safety risk that affects an organisation’s reputation. She has not attended any Melbourne Health functions with her husband, medical specialist Mark Walterfang, since the June 2016 dinner because she does not regard them as safe.
“Robert Doyle repeatedly acted in a way… a number of times that evening, all the while my partner was beside me and his daughter, seated at the same table,” she said.
In a statement, Melbourne Health said it had extended its process for managing complaints to include those against board members including the chairperson.
“This review has further strengthened workplace complaints procedures,” it said. The city’s Freckleton investigation last year upheld four complaints against Mr Doyle, including that he grasped the breast of Ms Sullivan and touched the inner thigh of councillor Cathy Oke. However it reached no conclusion about Mr Doyle’s behaviour towards Ms Williams at the dinner he attended as chairman of Melbourne Health, which oversees the Royal Melbourne Hospital, because Mr Doyle said he was too ill to respond.
A Victorian health department investigation headed by Charles Scerri SC found no reason to doubt the truthfulness of Ms Williams’ allegations and said the conduct, if established, would “constitute serious misconduct of a sexual nature”, but was unable to reach a conclusion because Mr Doyle did not respond.
A health department spokesman said its investigation remained open and that last week Mr Scerri had again written to Mr Doyle’s lawyer asking him to respond to the allegations.
A City of Melbourne spokeswoman said the suggestion of a confidential statement “was not made by Mr Hanney.” She said the city was not acting out of a wish to be seen doing the right thing.
Ms Williams said she contacted Nick Ruskin, Mr Doyle’s lawyer, to ask him to respond to the Freckleton investigation and Mr Ruskin had also suggested a confidential settlement with Mr Doyle.
Mr Ruskin on Sunday said her account of their conversation was incorrect.
“I said to her in most disputes, the parties try to reach a settlement,” Mr Ruskin told the Financial Review.
“Such a settlement could or might involve a party giving an apology to another. That was not a reference to any discussion or settlement with Mr Doyle nor was it something outside of the City of Melbourne process.”
Mr Ruskin reiterated that Mr Doyle was too ill to respond to the allegations.