WARRNAMBOOL mayor Michael Neoh has rejected claims by fellow councillor Peter Hulin that he is putting political ambition ahead of his duties as the city’s leader.
Cr Hulin yesterday said he believed Cr Neoh wanted to be the next member for South West Coast when Premier Denis Napthine retires.
And he urged Cr Neoh to resign because he was not focusing on leading the city and had failed to heal rifts between councillors.
But the mayor said Cr Hulin was “playing games’’ and challenged him to point to specific examples of where he had put political ambition ahead of his mayoral responsibilities.
Cr Hulin did not name any particular incidences, instead referring to general unpopularity towards municipal policy and division within council.
Cr Neoh said he had no interest in running for Parliament and was committed to his role on council for the long term.
Both men are members of the Liberal Party. Cr Hulin has been a long-time member of the Warrnambool branch while Cr Neoh yesterday confirmed his membership but declined to specify which branch.
Cr Hulin said when he first joined council in November 2008 “most believed Michael Neoh was a Labor party person”.
“He was very supportive of Labor policies and generally took a Labor viewpoint,” Cr Hulin said.
“So I find it extremely curious that he is now a member of the Liberal Party’s Hamilton branch.
“Neoh has been dead against live streaming (online coverage) of council meetings — as shown this week — but it’s now Liberal Party policy to have all councils covered by live streaming.
“He’s going against the party he’s now a part of.”
Cr Neoh said Cr Hulin was trying to undermine him and said the record showed he fought for Warrnambool’s interests whatever party was in state or federal government.
He said a number of other south-west councillors were members of political parties, including Cr Jacinta Ermacora who is standing as an ALP candidate.
“I may be a member of the Liberal Party but in the past 12 months I’ve only attended one meeting,” Cr Neoh said.
“Anyone who knows me understands that I put 100 per cent into my role, 100 per cent.
“Peter Hulin is being hypocritical when it comes to commitment to his role given he attended the Liberal Party state conference (in May) rather than the council budget briefing — the most important meeting of the council year.”
Warrnambool’s leader is not alone in being party affiliated, with Ballarat mayor Joshua Morris and Geelong mayor Darryn Lyons also members of the Liberal Party.
Cr Hulin said training he received during an Australian Institute of Company Directors course backed up his views that Cr Neoh was failing in his duties as mayor.
“I was part of that course run by (former deputy premier) John Thwaites and it clearly outlined that the role of mayor is to unite councillors and communicate effectively with councillors,” Cr Hulin said.
“(Cr Neoh) doesn’t even bother communicating with me or the other councillors.”
Cr Neoh said his council rival had refused to engage with some councillors in a constructive way. “I’m committed to my role as mayor, committed to being proactive on council,” he said. “Council isn’t about constant criticism and playing games for your own purposes.”