The Bendigo Council has approved plans for the city’s first mosque, despite fierce opposition from some locals who claim the council has failed to protect them from terrorists.
More than 200 people packed into the public gallery at the central Victorian city’s council meeting on Wednesday night. There was a large police presence at the meeting to maintain order.
Most had come to voice their objections to a planning application for the mosque in East Bendigo and police were on hand in case things got out of hand.
During the debate, which lasted more than two hours, councillors were constantly shouted down by the gallery, accused of being liars and not listening to ratepayers.
Opponents said the mosque would bring violence to Bendigo and the city would be overtaken by Sharia law.
“If you’re Muslim and you want a mosque, go back to the Middle East. This is Australia,” one member of the public said.
The protest group asked what councillors were doing to protect the city from terrorism and accused the council of failing to consult the community.
“Bendigo people own Bendigo, it’s their town, they have the right to say mosque or no mosque,” one person said.
“We’re not racists.”
Councillors voted seven to two to support the development, but agreed the matter was likely to end up at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Councillor James Williams, who voted in favour of the project, addressed the audience, saying we all live in a tolerant country that does not allow extreme actions and racist behaviour.
Protesters hold up signs during the council meeting
Strong Views are “Fine”
Following the heated meeting, applicant Munshi Nawaz, who is a Muslim himself, encouraged freedom of speech and said it was “fine” that people had expressed such strong views.
However he acknowledged that there was a lot of misinformation surrounding the mosque and Islam itself.
“It was to be expected and I don’t think the views heard tonight really represent how Bendigo feels about Islam as a religion,” he said.
“I have lived in Bendigo for six years and am welcomed by the community.”
He said if he had met the protesters in the street, it would have been a different story.
“I don’t think they are against Muslims themselves, they just have a lot of misinformation about Islam and what it means. It doesn’t mean terrorism.
“Their fears are not based in any truth.”
Protesters made their point of view known