Lord Mayor of Melbourne
Born in: Melbourne
Friends: Neil Mitchell
Foes: The Occupy protesters | The Australian Labor Party
Home Town: Melbourne
For a failed former opposition leader with no executive power, a limited budget and a minority on his own council, Melbourne's talkaholic Lord Mayor Robert Doyle might seem a curious inclusion on a list of movers and shapers.
Sure, he carries off the usual city hall duties, like ribbon cutting and sound biting, with aplomb. But is he really that powerful? Or is it just empty symbolism? According to Doyle himself, it's neither.
Approaching his cavernous office in the lavish interior of the Victorian-era Town Hall, you expect the pugnacious former English teacher to bowl up wearing the mayoral robes, such are the trappings he's become expert at exploiting.
True to form, the man most people regard as Ron Walker's successor as 'Mr Melbourne' leaps from his desk, piled high with books by AA Gill and Tony Blair, and immediately apologises for a shocking case of the sniffles.
Zinging through anecdote after anecdote with only slightly less chutzpah than his regular slots on Neil Mitchell's morning radio program, Doyle does a mean impression of someone who takes his official duties very seriously indeed. You sense he's crafting his off-the-cuff answers with a view to how it might be reported, covering off every possible 'gotcha' angle with ease.
"You can be seen as a champion of the city...as one of the powerful voices in that Melbourne conversation," Doyle explains. "But it's not like you can say in a grandiose way 'it's my city' like a Boris Johnson or a Mike Bloomberg could."
Thus usual critics like pollster Gary Morgan mightn't agree (he's "incompetent", "inept", "full of hot air") but perhaps that's where Doyle's influence lies, as a front-man the city never had, a self-described "passionate" defender of the metropolis, with a generous ego only adding to the aura of autarky. His regular gig on Mitchell's show and a column in the Herald Sun help.
"I don't kid myself about being Lord Mayor, this is not a position of executive power. You have some power over the budget we have and the capital works and the services, but the decisions are collective," he admits.
Even good pal Mitchell, who basically ran the media arm of Doyle's initial campaign for Mayor in 2008 (even to the extent of savagely denigrating Doyle's Labor rival Will Fowles), has disputed whether he has any real influence.
But others with real power are taking notice. When asked about his top Melbourne power picks, media buyer Harold Mitchell (who we've ranked above the mayor in our Melbourne Power List) placed Doyle front and centre. And the council's 3,000 staff work on hundreds of projects including planning, parks, roads and childcare. Sixty well paid executives make sure the council's plans are implemented.
Labor Left Councillor Jennifer Kanis, who "definitely doesn't agree with everything" Doyle says, reckons the Mayor's power is sourced almost exclusively through momentum and consensus building. On the nine member council, Doyle must cultivate the support of two others outside his immediate orbit of Deputy Mayor Susan Riley and Cr Carl Jetter to command a majority.
And even then, voting records suggest the process can throw up unpredictable results, driven not by Doyle but often shaped and massaged by the internal debate itself. Even his enemies agree he's great to work with.
"He's definitely an operator, he talks to us regularly, he steers the ship as such in certain respects, he knows where we are on certain issues and he knows what he can and can't say," says sole Greens Councillor Cathy Oke.
Doyle lists a grab bag of 2011 achievements including rebuilding Swanston Street, balancing the budget and creating a Melbourne music festival. But it's perhaps his most savvy act of shapeshifting that has built the city's green reputation on the international stage, with its Green Cities program being picked up as sustainable cities model around the world.
Oke notes the irony of someone from the scorched earth wing of the Liberal Party emerging as a global green. But for Doyle the appeal is obvious: "You get to be friends with Mike Bloomberg and former [Toronto] Mayor Miller and you get to write opinion articles about how Melbourne should be, why wouldn't you keep going?"
Traverse the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or whack a towel on the beach at Sorrento, and it's clear that like any other big city, a rarefied cabal call the shots. But Doyle appears to struggle with the notion of power full stop, preferring to talk about networks and "conversations" that resemble the polite practices of a pre-modern village rather than the Foucauldian nightmare his Occupy Melbourne enemies decry.
"I reckon if anyone thinks they've got power, they're kidding themselves. You can have influence and you can do stuff but that's not the same thing."
Still the removal of the Occupy Melbourne protesters from the City Square remains a sore point. In many quarters, Doyle was fingered as the culprit, as the bully that sent in the dog squad to disrupt democracy.
Doyle bristles at the suggestion of misbehaviour, claiming 13 and 14 year old kids were plied with alcohol and drugs and that wards of the state were going home with glue sniffing and chroming protesters. Homeless indigenous men were inside some of the tents.
He takes special umbrage at the continuing parade of Occupy grievances raised through the courts, criticising former federal court judge Ron Merkel's decision to represent the protesters ("fuzzy hair, fuzzy thinking, fuzzy approach").
"We were the first city in the world to evict the Occupy protesters...you talk about power and influence...you've got be prepared to exercise it if is within your gift. Power unused, you know...it's like justice, it's power denied."
But the popular perception – fuelled by Doyle's crusading on radio and a Sunday Herald Sun column – that he was the man who evicted the protesters is a myth. Oke revealed to us that only council CEO Kathy Alexander's delegated authority was relevant under the local law banning camping. A formal vote of councillors was never called for. Doyle, watching from the roof of the adjacent Town Hall, was literally a bystander.
A few days after our interview, Doyle calls back, eager to flag an impressive example of the "Melbourne conversation" in action. When popular churchman Father Bob Maguire needed a new pulpit after he was evicted from his old digs by the Catholic Church, Doyle approached Neil Mitchell to elevate Maguire's plight publicly, who then roped in regular Mitchell guest Dean Mighell to look for accommodation though his building industry contacts.
On his future, he promises to consult with his wife, whom he married last year, over the break and make a decision. The private sector has apparently been crying out for his door-opening services and his work as the chair of Melbourne Health and a director of government consultancy the Nous Group has been lauded.
But in true Doyle style, it's unlikely his comrades will get the drop.
"He'll probably make an announcement on 3AW first, he usually tells the media about these things before telling us!" fellow Liberal Ken Ong, and potential lead councillor on Doyle's 2012 ticket, tells The Power Index.
Doyle seems to have grown into the role, and it's hard to see him surrendering voluntarily.
"I've got to say I don't have all the answers...I don't have all of the received wisdom. That used to be me when I was much younger but now I know I'm not the smartest guy in the room."