Related coverage: Bendigo mosque a cause celebre for right-wing outsiders
A FAR-RIGHT, anti-Islam lobby group in Queensland has given money to opponents of the Bendigo mosque.
Restore Australia is a not-for-profit group run by former One Nation candidate Mike Holt, a Vietnam veteran and author, and Charles Mollison, a former Lieutenant Colonel who also served in Vietnam. Both men live on the Sunshine Coast.
Mr Holt confirmed that up to $10,000 - that had been donated to Restore Australia - was given to a group called Stop The Mosque in Bendigo and also to a Victorian chapter of the Patriot Defence League Australia (PDLA). He said the money was to print campaign material.
Stop The Mosque In Bendigo run an active anti-Islam Facebook page from Bendigo and Beaufort, near Ballarat. The administrators, Julie Kendall and Monika Evers, did not return calls.
Patriot Defence League Australia - with a strident anti-Islam agenda - have chapters in most states. Victorian members attended Bendigo council meetings about the mosque wearing tee-shirts bearing their insignia.
Mr Holt said Stop The Mosque in Bendigo and the PDLA were “our foot-soldiers on the ground".
“We are not right wing crazies,” he said. “We are ordinary Australians opposed to the Islamisation of our country.”
Restore Australia also administers a sub-group called Islam4Infidels which issues written advice for people or communities wanting to campaign against mosques.
Mr Holt said Restore Australia shared material and ideology with two groups in the UK – the English Defence League, known for anti-Islamic street protests, and Liberty Great Britain, a new far-right political party.
He said the Bendigo mosque issue had brought previously separate Australian anti-Islam groups together. “We were not united before,” he said. “But this issue has managed to unite us.”
A planning application for the mosque was passed by a majority of Bendigo councillors last week but Restore Australia have paid for a Sydney lawyer often used in anti-mosque hearings, Robert Balzola, to appeal to VCAT on planning grounds. Local objectors say the mosque would breach regulations to do with parking, noise and traffic.
If built the large $3m mosque will feature two floors, a café and sports hall.
The land the Australian Islamic Mission hope to build it on - on the eastern semi-rural fringe of Bendigo - is vacant.
The local anti-mosque group Battle For Bendigo says their campaign about planning aspects of the mosque has been hijacked by far-right outsiders.
“We are not racist,” says spokeswoman Julie, who would not give her surname for fear of retribution. “The process through the council has been flawed and fraudulent, they are railroading it through. But now there are big concerns about Islam and that is the council’s fault because this flawed process has caused people to investigate Islam further.”
A study by Melbourne’s Online Hate Prevention Institute of people posting on the Stop The Mosque in Bendigo Facebook page reveals only three per cent were from Bendigo with 59 per cent from other states or territories, mostly Queensland.