FULL COVERAGE: Bendigo mosque: Emotion fuels debate
CITY of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman says she does not have a problem with Muslims praying in Bendigo, but could not list a location she deems appropriate for a mosque.
Crs Chapman and Helen Leach objected to the Rowena Street proposal on Wednesday night amid claims from some residents the mosque would overthrow the Australian Constitution, increase violence in the region and see an influx of Islam believers "descend" on Bendigo.
Cr Chapman said she had based her opposition on planning matters, but "understood" concerns some women held about the safety of "our daughters and granddaughters".
"(I live 20 kilometres from the mosque) but if I lived next door, and given what you see in the media, maybe I would be (concerned about safety)," she said.
"People have a right to object."
Crs Chapman and Leach noted concerns surrounding a lack of community consultation, traffic and carparking at the site, as well as the future of the Bendigo Airport.
Personally, Ms Chapman said, she was "not a fan of Islam" but that did not affect her decision on the proposal.
"I wouldn't want to live near a mosque. Would you?" she asked.
Cr Chapman said Muslims had the right to pray but when asked where, she said, "I don't have a map".
She said Islam practices taught that any non-believers were not worthy and should be killed.
"Every day in the media there are cases of people being raped by Muslims ... and there is no doubt a mosque would see more Muslims move to Bendigo," she said.
"Islam is not a race though and I am not racist."
When comparing Islam to other religions, she said other groups were not praying from 5am until 11am and that unemployment rates for Muslim men were four to five times higher than Australian men.
Cr Leach said she wasn’t anti-Muslim but that it was her job to represent residents.
‘‘Maybe (the protesters) are looking at the sectarian problems in other capital cities in Australia and are concerned perhaps that may come to Bendigo,’’ she told Fairfax Media.
She said it was unclear whether those community concerns were well-founded but noted that a societal impact report wasn’t done.
Many of the seven supporting councillors refused to get involved in the religious debate about Islam.
Cr Rod Campbell said many people were forgetting the real issue - that the mosque would create a place of worship where people could meet in harmony.
When asked if the councillors were proud to approve the mosque, many agreed that it was "just business as usual" and no different to any other planning matter that came before the council.
Cr Peter Cox said while it would have been nice to have a bit more respect (from protesters), it did not deter him from putting his point across.
He said the mosque proposal had conditions placed on it that "other religious organisations wouldn't expect" but reiterated he did not believe the protester's fears were founded.
Chief executive Craig Niemann said having a mosque in Bendigo did not take away anyone's rights - in fact, it showed a respect for others from different backgrounds.