OPPONENTS of Bendigo’s first mosque have been dealt a blow after being ordered to pay $55,000 in legal costs. Last month, Victoria’s top court rejected an application by a 16-strong group, led by Bendigo women Julie Hoskin and Kathleen Howard, for leave to appeal against two decisions of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the grounds of appeal — that VCAT had erred in its interpretation of its duties — were not reasonably arguable and had no chance of success.
The court has now awarded $30,000 in costs to the City of Greater Bendigo and $25,000 to the Australian Islamic Mission, the group behind the proposal to build the mosque.
Should the total sum be divided equally, each of the 16 mosque opponents — who also have their own legal expenses to meet — now faces a bill of around $3400.
However, that sum is less than the $150,000 the group members said they had been asked to provide as security before the appeal.
In last month’s judgment, the court said most objections expressed fears that granting the permit would lead to more Islamic practices, resulting in cultural change and socially objectionable behaviours.
But the three appeal judges — Chief Justice Marilyn Warren, Justice Robert Osborn and Justice Joseph Santamaria — said that these objections were “overstated”.
“In the absence of any objective, concrete evidence substantiating the adverse social effects the objectors submitted the mosque could have, the Tribunal acted according to law in giving the objectors’ concerns little weight,” the judges said in their ruling.
After the appeal court decision, Ms Hoskin said she would seek further legal advice and vowed to take the matter all the way to the High Court.
The proposal for a mosque has divided Bendigo, leading to several heated protests.
A rally in Melbourne in July saw violent clashes between rival protesters, and protests were also held in Bendigo in August and October.
All three rallies involved Victoria Police running major law and order operations to keep the peace, which involved more than 400 officers and which cost taxpayers about $750,000.
Ms Howard and Ms Hoskin, who is recovering in a wheelchair after a nasty fall outside the Supreme Court last month, could not be reached for comment about the costs order.