FULL COVERAGE: Bendigo mosque: Emotion fuels debate
VICTORIA Police assistant commissioner Jack Blayney writes about the events which took place in Bendigo during the week and offers a warning.
Victoria is one of the most successful multi-cultural communities in the world where people from over 200 different countries, speaking 260 languages and dialects and practicing over 135 different faiths have come to live and prosper.
That’s what makes the recent events in Bendigo so disappointing. A small minority of people expressing anti-Muslim rhetoric may damage our proud history of tolerance and respect for people who come to live in Bendigo from other parts of the world.
Bendigo was one of Victoria’s first multicultural communities where, during the gold rush, it welcomed people from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Plus the City of Greater Bendigo is growing, with an expected increase in population of 31.05 per cent by 2031. Many of these new residents will be people arriving from culturally and racially diverse origins.
The planning process allows people the right to object to any development within their community. But their objection should not be expressed in a way that vilifies one particular section of the community and incites hatred.
Racism exists in every community, but Victoria Police-along with community leaders and bystanders alike-has a role in combating it.
Hatred and vilification of people is not only discriminatory, it will also affect our standing as an open, tolerant community in the eyes of the world.
Police enforce the law and a range of legislation, including the Multicultural Victoria Act 2011, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 together with the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, and the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 make racist comments that incite hatred and victimise certain racial groups-unlawful.
Plus the Summary Offences Act 1966 makes language and behaviour which is profane, abusive or insulting and which is uttered in a public place- also an offence.
Victoria Police will intervene in any public event that results in racially motivated acts of intimidation or assault in order to keep the peace.
Make no mistake; we will investigate racially motivated crimes.
Our thinking is simple, if you howl abuse in public places you are not only a fool, you are a menace and will be charged.
By all means local Bendigo people should express their opinion about the building of a mosque within their community, but do so in way that is respectful and within the law.
Bendigo, along with the rest of the Victoria, is a far more diverse and prosperous place than it was a few decades ago.
We have welcomed people from war-torn countries and given sanctuary to some who have experienced trauma the magnitude of which we could not possibly comprehend.
Despite views expressed to the contrary, the fact is, local crime figures clearly demonstrate that people practising the Islamic faith are underrepresented.
The real story does not justify the unwarranted hysteria which surrounds this particular minority within our community.
We have a lot to be optimistic about.
So over the next few weeks and months, as the planning process for the Mosque proceeds, let us demonstrate those values that have underpinned the Bendigo community for the last century and a half, values like respect, tolerance and above all else a commitment to uphold the law.