Wagga City Council will formally apologise to Kunming after councillors reversed a controversial decision to sever its Chinese sister city ties.
Mayor Greg Conkey called an extraordinary meeting that took place on Wednesday night after a motion initiated by Councillor Paul Funnell was narrowly passed last week, sparking a fierce backlash at a local, national and international level.
Cr Conkey, who was absent through illness from the last meeting, said he was "shocked, distraught and physically ill" when watching the events unfold on April 14.
"This motion was an insult to the mayor and people of Kunming after the hospitality shown to me, past mayors and the people who have visited," he said.
Cr Conkey said there was no doubt the decision would have caused "disbelief and anger" from the people of Kunming, which was the reason he urged councillors to support a motion that erased the decision and to send a formal letter of apology to Wagga's sister city and the council's "friends in China".
However, standing firmly behind his decision was Cr Funnell, who lost the support of councillors Tim Koschel and Yvonne Braid - both of whom supported the decision to cut ties with the city of Kunming in the first instance.
Cr Funnell said the commentary that ensued following the debate only reaffirmed his view that Wagga "must not remain in this cosy relationship".
He said this decision was not racially motivated and, in fact, was supported by "hundreds of Australians with a Chinese background" who contacted him "respecting" his stance.
Dr Lucy Zhao, who is an Australian citizen born and raised in Kunming, was one of three people of Chinese heritage at the extraordinary council meeting to call for the council to stand-by its decision and sever links to the sister city.
She said the entire world was watching the council to take a stand under the pressure of the Chinese government.
"It is against Australian values to ignore the suppression of rights and freedom ... in voting to terminate these connections you are voting to support people's rights and offering people in China and Kunming hope to end this suppression," she said.
After speaking with community members, however Cr Braid said she made the choice to change her position.
Likewise, Cr Koschel - who was acting chairman for the agenda item at the last meeting and used his casting vote to get the motion over the line - backflipped on his decision 24 hours after it had been made.
"I made the wrong decision," he said.
However, Cr Vanessa Keenan said this decision has not only damaged a relationship between two communities, but the reputation of Wagga - and cannot be undone.
Cr Rod Kendall said he witnessed first-hand the goodwill that sister city links have built between two communities. He said it was wrong that councillors used the COVID-19 virus for political point scoring.
Cr Dan Hayes said last week Cr Funnell was laughing at those who spoke against him, but the community have now spoken.
"He continues to laugh and it is like giving the community the finger," he said.
He went on to add that Cr Koschel's apology was "not a reset button" and only actions made it meaningful.
Cr Hayes said there were four opportunities for Cr Koschel to avoid the decision he made, but he changed his mind once the damage was done.
Councillors Conkey, Keenan, Hayes, Kendall, Braid and Koschel voted to overturn the decision to cut ties with its sister city and to send an apology for the damage it had caused, while Cr Funnell voted against.
Cr Dallas Tout and Kerry Pascoe declared conflicts of interest and removed themselves from the debate.