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Former Liberal MP Tim Wilson has defended jointly laying a wreath set aside for his successor at an Anzac Day service in Melbourne’s south-east, saying he was asked to do so by an RSL staff member because independent Zoe Daniel was not in attendance.
But Daniel’s office says a volunteer was sent to the event in her absence and has called for community representatives to be respected.
Former Liberal Goldstein MP Tim Wilson and the current independent member, Zoe Daniel. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen, Simon Schluter
Footage circulating on social media on Sunday afternoon appeared to show Daniel’s representative, a volunteer identified only as Peter, confronting Wilson after the wreath-laying in Beaumaris to say what occurred was “very inappropriate” and “ridiculous”.
In the video, Wilson – who was there to lay a book at the cenotaph – fired back, saying: “The federal member for Goldstein isn’t at an Anzac Day service in her community.”
Speaking on RN Breakfast on Monday, Daniel said it was organised that Peter would lay the wreath on her behalf when her name was called.
“I’m told that the former federal member for Goldstein took the wreath and would not return it to my volunteer,” she said.
There was a “remonstration” and both the volunteer and Wilson laid the wreath together.
When contacted by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Wilson said: “When somebody from the Beaumaris RSL asks me to lay a wreath because the federal member is absent, I am more than happy to oblige.”
He added that he and Peter laid the wreath together once it became apparent that the man was volunteering on behalf of Daniel.
Asked why he didn’t hand over the wreath once Daniel’s representative identified himself, the former member for Goldstein replied: “I laid the wreath in the spirit of our community to honour our fallen heroes.”
Daniel said it was not appropriate to keep talking about the clash, adding that Anzac Day events should not be politicised.
“I think it’s sad, actually, what happened. But at the end of the day, you know, it was a good faith gesture on my part to send a wreath to lay, and it was a good faith gesture on Peter’s part to attend to lay it.”
Wilson has also said that Anzac Day should not be politicised.
The former MP said there was a general callout for someone to lay the wreath, which led to it being given to him.
Ryan Batchelor witnessed the altercation.
Former Bayside mayor James Long, who ran for council as an independent, said Wilson had been treated “in a very shabby manner”.
“The MC called for a volunteer,” he said. “There was an embarrassing pause which highlighted Zoe Daniel’s absence. Tim was reluctant at first. I disagree with Tim Wilson on a lot of policies … but he didn’t do it to grandstand himself.”
Asked whether he would have let go of the wreath had he been in Wilson’s position, Long said: “To save controversy, I probably would have [let go of it].”
Victorian upper house Labor MP Ryan Batchelor, who was in attendance because he represents the Southern Metropolitan region, wrote on Twitter that he had been standing next to the two men at one point in the ceremony and that what occurred was “unedifying behaviour”.
“Disrespectful of [Tim] to pull a stunt like that at an Anzac Day service,” he wrote.
One attendee, who was seated towards the front of the ceremony but did not wish to be identified, said they saw both Wilson and someone they later learned was Daniel’s representative gripping either side of the wreath.
“No one would let go,” the attendee said. “The people from the RSL … were a bit taken aback.”
A spokesman for Daniel said Peter’s name was read out at the ceremony, and he was identified as the sitting MP’s representative when the second group of wreath-layers were called to perform their duties.
“When he got to the table where the wreaths were laid out, it had gone.”
On Sunday night, Daniel said in a statement she was unable to attend the event due to “a personal commitment with my teenaged son in his role as a volunteer surf lifesaver”.
“I represent the Goldstein community,” she said. “Sometimes, as Peter did today, the community represents me as volunteers, which is to be respected and celebrated.
“Thank you also to the Beaumaris RSL for your extraordinary commitment to veterans and community. I will be respectfully attending several events across Goldstein on Anzac Day.”
Her spokesman added that the independent MP was attending five Anzac events this year: one that has already been held at Beaumaris Football Club, three on Anzac Day itself and a school event later this week. He declined to provide Peter’s surname, saying the volunteer had asked for privacy.
The state Liberal MP for Sandringham, Brad Rowswell, was also at the wreath-laying ceremony and has been contacted for comment.
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