April 16, 2020 17:46:18
A mayor in south-west Victoria has been fined for breaching coronavirus restrictions after he was photographed having a beer with two men on a public street.
- Tony Herbert said he was engaging with business owners as part of his mayoral role and did not realise he was breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directives
- Once the photo was circulated on social media, police investigated and issued him and three others with a $1,652 fine
- Cr Herbert has apologised for what he called a “chance, unplanned and emotional encounter”
Warrnambool mayor Tony Herbert was snapped last week standing in Warrnambool’s main street at night, with the photo circulated on social media.
The photo triggered a police investigation and Cr Herbert was fined $1,652 for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directives which forbid gatherings of more than two people and any non-essential activities.
In a written statement, Cr Herbert apologised for the incident, which occurred within hours of him recording a video for the council’s social media accounts urging people to stay home.
He said he had mistakenly believed his “actions to engage with business owners as part of my mayoral role was within the bounds of the law”.
“However, I realise that I had inadvertently breached the new laws to keep the community safe,” Cr Herbert said.
“I am genuinely sorry for my actions.”
‘Unplanned and emotional’
In a statement released earlier this week, Cr Herbert defended his actions, describing the encounter with two business owners in Warrnambool’s Liebig St as an accidental one that came about as he was checking to see how businesses in the dining precinct were faring.
“There, I had a chance, unplanned and emotional encounter with one business owner,” the mayor said.
“While I discussed the state of his business, a second business owner approached and joined the conversation.
“As we spoke we stood metres apart from each other with the exception of a brief moment when one of the business owners – who practices strict hygiene controls as part of his business – passed me a beer.
“After [the] discussion we finished with a sense of optimism for the future.
“The conversations I had with the business owners were part of my job.
“It is important for any mayor, where reasonable and safe to do so, to find out first-hand about the state of their city.”
Other matters pending
The photo of the incident also seemed to highlight two other potential illegal acts by the mayor: the mayoral car was parked the wrong way on the street and drinking is not permitted in the area where the men were having a beer.
Victoria Police did not respond to questions about these matters before deadline.
A police spokesperson did indicate that the mayor was not the only one fined for breaching coronavirus restrictions.
“Following reports of people gathering and drinking in a street outside a Warrnambool licenced premise on Tuesday 7 April, police can confirm they have issued four penalty notices for breaching Chief Health Officer directions,” they said.
Some commenters on social media have called for Cr Herbert to resign, but others have called it a storm in a teacup.
Cr Herbert said he wouldn’t resign and that he appreciated the messages of support from fellow councillors, the community and business owners at this time, which he said had strengthened his resolve to “do a better job”.
April 16, 2020 17:44:46
Contact Matt Neal
stories from Victoria