Police and faith leaders join forces in Bendigo

COUNCIL: Commander Sue Clark (centre) with Dr Dellal and members of the Victoria Police Multi-faith Council. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

COUNCIL: Commander Sue Clark (centre) with Dr Dellal and members of the Victoria Police Multi-faith Council. Picture: BRENDAN McCARTHY

POLICE and religious leaders met at Bendigo police station on Thursday to discuss how to work together for peace and acceptance in the community. 

It was the first time the Victoria Police Multi-faith Council met outside Melbourne since its inception in 2001.

The council formed in the wake of the September 11 attacks in New York with a purpose to exchange experiences, start inter-faith dialogue and express concerns.

Police commander Sue Clark said the meeting came to Bendigo in recognition of the great work police had done with faith leaders and the broader community in the wake of controversy around the mosque planned for East Bendigo. 

Ms Clark said the purpose of the meeting was not about "doom and gloom" but was about sharing successes and learning from each other.

"We do come together to show how united we are... to show what leadership looks like," she said.

"The purpose of today was to come and show our support to Bendigo as a community.

"It takes great leadership and a great investment in a community to bring together your faith leaders and law enforcement leaders."

The Australian Multicultural Foundation's executive director Dr Hass Dellal said working with faith leaders could achieve "grass roots" results. 

"Faith leaders, on a day-to-day basis, whether on a Friday in a mosque, in a church on a Sunday or a temple or synagogue, (are) with (their) people," he said.

"When there are problems you use these leaders to develop strategies with these police," he said. 

"Those faith leaders play a very important role in bringing people together."

Bendigo inspector Peter Greaney said it was encouraging that the Multi-faith Council left Melbourne for the first time to exchange ideas with his team and support faith leaders in Bendigo. 

Jewish Community Council of Victoria executive director David Marlow said Bendigo police and community members were proactive in their response to opposition to the mosque. 

"I don't understand why building a mosque in Bendigo was an issue because lots of mosques get built, or churches, or synagogues and you might have a planning issue about the height of a fence or that sort of thing, but you don't get the fear factor that gets blown up by external parties," Mr Marlow said.  

"It was an irrational discussion and people trying to, I suppose, inflame people's fears and stresses." 

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