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Anzac clash: Inside the Tim Wilson ‘wreathgate’ scandal

The wreath at the centre of the fracas in Beaumaris.

The wreath at the centre of the fracas in Beaumaris. Photo: Lucie Morris-Marr

It’s a political drama that has already garnered its own nickname – wreathgate –  and generated outrage, internet memes, commentary and days of headlines.

I came in peace when I attended an Anzac commemorative march and service on Sunday, but I ended up unintentionally sparking an unedifying public war of words. 

A bitter battle for reputation and blame, stretching over several days, started with a single tweet I posted about former Liberal federal MP for Goldstein Tim Wilson and a wrangle over the laying of a wreath at the RSL-organised event in Beaumaris, a normally tranquil Melbourne bayside suburb.

My eyes were on my son, who at just 14 is a corporal in the Royal Australian Air Force Cadets and had been diligently practising his drills for weeks for a series of Anzac events.

After he and his fellow cadets marched along the road from Beaumaris concourse, led by a band from St Leonard’s College, followed by veterans, scout groups and schoolchildren, I took my seat near the front at the Beaumaris memorial community forecourt and cenotaph. 

After hymns, prayers and speeches it was time for the wreath laying by multiple organisations and individuals. So far, so appropriate.

Going off script

“Do we have anyone representing Zoe Daniel MP here today?” asked the master of ceremonies, Beaumaris RSL president Shayne Benedict.

Immediately a man leapt to his feet from the white VIP seats just a couple of metres behind Mr Benedict, who then said over the microphone, “Oh that’s right, it’s Peter.”

The volunteer’s name was very clearly heard from where I was sitting.

But before Peter could reach the flower table, just 10 metres from where he was sitting, I noticed that Tim Wilson, in picture-ready suit and tie, had suddenly sprung from the crowd.

The 43-year-old former director at the Institute of Public Affairs already had Zoe Daniel’s wreath in both his hands. 

I was shocked. I knew immediately that this was wrong and felt a sense of rising anger. And not because I had any particular view on the former member for Goldstein, who lost his seat to Zoe Daniel in the 2022 federal election.

I felt angry because what Mr Wilson was doing was out of place. He was no longer our local MP. His name wasn’t listed in the order of service at all, and he didn’t have a chair in the VIP area. 

And the point is nothing else was out of place at this beautifully executed service, complete with flag bearers, cadets and dignitaries. It was graceful. It was democratic. As it should be. Attention to detail and military precision is all part of how Anzac services show respect for the fallen. 

It’s about meeting the moment with immense effort and everything – and everyone – being in its rightful place, from scout scarf to bugler’s note. 

It’s about carefully honouring the stories carved in stone of those who made the ultimate sacrifice – not a time for ousted MPs to write their own scripts.

Mr Wilson later said he had been asked by the people at the flower desk and members of the crowd to take the flowers forward. But why did he then not hand over the flowers when the volunteer came forward, looking extremely surprised and confused? 

He didn’t then share the duty in my view, as he also stated; the volunteer quickly tried to place his left hand on the flowers as they moved forward.

From where I was sitting Mr Wilson gripped on to that wreath as if his life depended on it.

Heated exchange

After the flag was lowered and the service ended, I spotted Mr Wilson having an angry and heated exchange with Ms Daniel’s volunteer.

I walked over and informed Mr Wilson that I felt he was in the wrong.

He was hugely angry and defensive, so I decided to record the final exchange between the two men. It was just 10 seconds of video, but these days a video speaks more than a thousand pictures. 

I captured the shaken volunteer telling Mr Wilson his behaviour had been “very inappropriate” and “ridiculous”.

On the video Mr Wilson states angrily that Ms Daniel should have been at the service. She later issued a statement explaining she had attended a personal commitment with her teenage son, and would be at several events across Goldstein on Anzac Day. 

Let’s be fair here, the former journalist is a working mother, not an omnipresent magician. 

https://twitter.com/luciemorrismarr/status/1650033250939842560

When I got home I decided to tweet the video, stating the facts of what had unfolded.

With local papers now decimated in the modern media landscape, these sort of political scuffles are important and need recording. 

Then all hell broke loose. My tweeted video clip was viewed more than 170,000 times and the reaction to Mr Wilson on Elon Musk’s Twitter platform wasn’t positive, to say the least.

Mr Wilson doubled down in tweets in reply to mine, saying that he was asked to lay the flowers, adding that “Anzac Day should not be politicised”.

Screaming headlines

Interesting take in the circumstances. And one that multiple media platforms, from the ABC to the Daily Mail and The Age leapt on, using my video along with screaming headlines about the “wreath wrangle” and “Anzac wreath clash”.

One article suggested Mr Wilson may be blocked from preselection for the 2025 election, such is the reported dismay among senior Liberals over the debacle.

Sky News Australia ran the footage, ironically lifted from my tweet without attribution, with their political commentators saying it demonstrated the vicious war between the Liberals and the teals.

As the row dissipated, I went back to Beaumaris to check on the wreath at the centre of all this angst.

I found it in perfect condition in the afternoon sun, the deep red carnations tucked among the green foliage.

The message on the white label read: “This wreath has been laid on the cenotaph on behalf of: Federal Member for Goldstein.”

An Aleppo pine, propagated from seeds collected from the Lone Pine tree, planted in 1934 on the grounds of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, was gently waving in the breeze alongside neatly trimmed rosemary bushes just behind all the wreaths. 

Away from all the noise everything was thankfully in place, peacefully so.

Just as it should be.

Lucie Morris-Marr is a freelance investigative journalist and author. She wrote the Pell Diaries series for The New Daily and won the 2020 Walkley Book Award for her debut book Fallen, The Inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell (Allen & Unwin)

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