WAS it a toilet break or was it a protest walk-out?
That’s the question buzzing around Warrnambool City Council circles yesterday after Cr Peter Hulin left during the mayor’s end-of-term speech.
He declared yesterday: “I needed to go to the bathroom”.
However, five other councillors saw it as a defiance of protocol and a further display of long-held animosity.
Cr Hulin walked from the council chambers on Monday night as mayor Jacinta Ermacora was summarising achievements of the past four years less than five minutes before closing the meeting.
He was seen standing in an adjacent hallway until the speech was finished.
“I considered his actions quite rude,” Cr Ermacora said.
“It’s about what his actions meant in respect held for the council table.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before.
“It’s part of a string of rude actions from him.”
Cr Hulin said he was shocked his action was interpreted as a walk-out.
“I needed to go to the toilet, but it wasn’t a protest,” he said.
“It would be very foolish to read any more into it.
“I would say the accusations are mischievious and a sad reflection on councillors.
“It’s not as though we are in school and have to put up our hand up for permission.”
His ally, Cr Jennifer Lowe, described the accusations as “apalling”.
“If this is the most important issue to come out of the council meeting, I’m alarmed,” she said.
Cr John Harris described Cr Hulin’s timing as “very rude and ignorant”.
“He’s been part of our council for four years and this speech was summarising our achievements,” Cr Harris said.
“I definitely believe it was a walk-out on the mayor.”
Cr Rob Askew described it as “totally unprofessional, ignorant and disrespectful to the mayor”.
“It’s not the first time he’s done it, but this time it was more blatant,” he said.
Cr Andrew Fawcett said it was the most open display of animosity he had seen in his two terms on council.
“It was a really poor way to treat the office of council,” Cr Fawcett said.
Cr Michael Neoh said he didn’t have all the facts, but did criticise councillors Hulin and Lowe for packing up while the mayor was speaking.
“That was an absolute lack of courtesy,” Cr Neoh said.