Bendigo council meeting shut down after anti-mosque protesters storm meeting

UPDATE THURSDAY: To follow our continuing coverage, click here.

REWATCH THE EVENTS HERE:

10.30pm: Mayor Peter Cox is shocked and disappointed after being escorted from the council chambers by police last night and has said he will call on the state government to intervene after angry protesters stormed a council meeting Wednesday night.

The Bendigo Advertiser spoke to him shortly after he, along with other members of council and the executive, were escorted from the Town Hall.

More than 100 members of the gallery were shouting and thumping on furniture.

The ugly scenes caused the meeting to be shut down before the council started its main items of business.

Below is extracts from that interview with the mayor, we’ll have more updates tomorrow:

“To think that this happened on my watch, my chairmanship, does shock me,” Cr Cox said.

The mayor said he never imagined such an event would occur in the City of Greater Bendigo council.

“Because I really believe in the democratic process, and I guess people were questioning if we really need a public question time if this is how it is going to be used, and I really believe that council should be questioned by the public about issues.”

“I’m just shocked that as a council we would even have to consider [closing public question time] and tonight demonstrated how important it is – when we had questions about rubbish and other matters important to our residents.”

“[The meeting] wasn’t just over the mosque, but unfortunately in the end I couldn’t control it over the noise and no one could hear anybody, so I had to close the meeting.”

Mayor Cox described an incident in which a man approached councillors and slammed his fist into the table on which they sat as “shocking”.

“I was very, very surprised and that was intimidatory,” Cr Cox said.

“People are unable to approach the council table – that is the prerogative of the elected member and so certainly, the councillors space was invaded by that individual tonight and it is just so disappointing.”

7.50pm: Council meeting now officially closed and chambers empty after police asked protesters. 

Senior Sergeant John Dalton said police would investigate the incident. 

“At this stage, no one has broken any laws, the crowd was asked to leave and they did so,” he said.

“We have not received any formal complaints at this point.” 

7pm: Police have asked crowd to leave, a gallery numbering more than 100 refused to stop asking questions.

Afterwards, a man approached the council table and thumped his fist on the table. 

Anti-mosque and anti-refugee chants broke out and the mayor adjourned the meeting.

Several police officers separating crowd from councillors.

6.45pm: Anti-mosque protectors are being told to leave the meeting by police as meeting adjourned as members of public shout at councillors and journalists. 

6.40pm. Police enter building as more than 60 anti-mosque protesters overtake meeting. 

6.27pm: Extraordinary scenes as meeting members of crowd shout and physically intimidate council. 

6.25pm: Question seven asks mayor from where he gets figures claiming anti-mosque protesters are from out of town. Loud jeering from crowd as well as profanities. 

6.25pm: Question six comes from member of Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services regards calling on Bendigo to become a refugee safe zone. She is loudly booed by members of audience. 

6.20pm: Question five calls for motion of no confidence in Mayor Peter Cox. “You’ve told a lot of lies, and now you can piss off,” he said to loud applause. Speaker hands in petition with 300 signatures.

6.15pm: Question four relates to Lake Eppalock and question five Strathdale Community Hall.

6.13pm: Second and third question relate to petition on Change.org calling on Bendigo councillors to take action against “hate groups” in Bendigo who are “bullying and engaging in vexatious behavior”. 

6.08pm: First question: why isn’t tip free several times a whose job is it to pick up rubbish left in forest? 

6.05pm: Someone in gallery loudly yells ‘shut up’ as members of public interject consistently interrupt Mayor Peter Cox. Mayor calls for respect as question time begins. 

6.03pm: Council is in session, so many in public gallery people are standing outside the room. Many are wearing Bendigo postcodes around their necks to refute claims that the majority of anti-mosque protesters are from out of town. 

6pm: Councillor Elise Chapman recieves a standing ovation from many in packed public gallery as she enters council chambers. 

THE future of Bendigo’s best loved park, failed mediation talks between the mayor and a councillor, environmental protection on the outskirts of the city, a vote on refugee intake, septic tanks and more will be on the agenda tonight when City of Greater Bendigo meets from 6pm. 

Journalist Joseph Hinchliffe will be streaming the meeting live via @joe_hinchliffe and tweeting from the same handle. 

The full agenda is below and this page will be hosting live updates. 

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