Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman tweets genital mutilation image to mosque supporter

City of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman.

City of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman.

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UPDATE 4.50PM: Councillors and Staff from the City of Greater Bendigo are receiving numerous comments regarding a social media post by Cr Elise Chapman.

As part of a due process in accordance with the Councillor Code of Conduct the Mayor will meet with Cr Chapman on Tuesday March 2.   This is the first available opportunity for the Mayor and Cr Chapman to meet face to face.

A statement will be issued next Wednesday.

PDATE 3PM FRIDAY: Haven; Home, Safe chief executive Ken Marchingo has slammed councillor Chapman's behaviour, saying she is damaging Bendigo's national and international reputation.

"I spent four months last year out of the country and wherever I go I am as proud as any Bendigonian you will ever see," he said.

"I go to international conferences in London, Ottawa, Toronto, and people say 'Bendigo? That's that redneck hick city that's against Muslims isn't it?'

"This is one of the most progressive regional cities in Australia. 

"And this clown just cheapens our reputation."

UPDATE 2.55PM FRIDAY: A spokeswoman for state Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said Ms Chapman's tweet was inappropriate.

"The tweet was inappropriate and the Minister does not support Cr Chapman's views," she said.

"As committed before the election, the Andrews Labor Government will review the Local Government Act and the way it relates to governance and standards for councils and councillors."

UPDATE 12.45PM FRIDAY: The Change.org petition to remove Elise Chapman from council has 590 signatures.

People have stated various reasons for signing. 

"I wouldn't normally get involved. But the alarmist behaviour and unfounded positions (on a variety of issues) espoused by this individual have become too much for me," writes Callum Wright.

"As a citizen of Bendigo, I do not want to be represented by this woman. I would like to see more female Councillors and don't think that Elise is encouraging that or leading by good example," says Marnie Jewell.

Hassan Ejaz writes: "Her views are not based on facts but rather self beliefs. The views she expresses are racially motivated and she will cause more divison amongst the community."

UPDATE 11.50AM FRIDAY: City of Greater Bendigo chief executive Craig Niemann has released a statement about councillor Chapman's tweet, on behalf of staff members.

The statement is as follows:

"The actions of one councillor as reported in today's media are completely at odds with the values and the standards of behaviour upheld by staff of the City of Greater Bendigo.

"I have been contacted by many staff who are appalled at the events of this week and this statement is the response to numerous requests from staff who wanted the broader community to know this is the behaviour of one person and does not reflect the values of the people of our organisation.

"Staff are shocked and dismayed that this kind of behaviour might be seen to be representative of our community.

"We need people to know that we are not like this.

"The staff are proud to be part of Greater Bendigo and love working for the City because they know they can make a positive difference in our community.

"Collectively, Staff have signed up to a set of values and behaviours that emphasise respecting others, showing leadership and caring for each other and our community.

"These values and behaviours include: 'We recognise and value diverse backgrounds and perspectives ... We gain the trust of others by acting fairly and with integrity ... We work together to create and maintain a positive culture'.

"These are the values and behaviours staff have signed up to; This is what we stand for as an organisation."

The City's values and behaviours are available here.

UPDATE 11.45AM FRIDAY: Dr Seyed Sheriffdeen, the secretary of the mosque applicant -  Australian Islamic Mission - said genital mutilation had nothing to do with Islam, nor the mosque project and the tweet would only incite hatred.

"We are not supporting genital mutilation ... it is nothing to do with Islam," he said.

"She has put an allegation that's not relevant to the case and this is inciting violence and hatred within the community. 

"This is a misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims that is happening everywhere and we are fighting against it."

UPDATE 11AM FRIDAY: Federal Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters believes Elise Chapman should consider her position on the City of Greater Bendigo council.

Ms Chesters said she was saddened to learn of Ms Chapman tweeting graphic images of children with mutilated genitals on social media.

"Any elected representative that behaves in this manner should resign, whether you're the Prime Minister or a local councillor," she said.

Ms Chapman tweeted the message earlier in the week to a supporter of the proposed Bendigo mosque.

Ms Chesters said Ms Chapman was tarnishing Bendigo's reputation.

"You do take on a responsibility when you speak publicly for this town," she said.

"We are an incredibly inclusive community - that should be our reputation."

She said was in the best interest of the Bendigo community that Ms Chapman resign from council.

"That's a decision for Elise to resign but I believe it is in the best interest of our local community and local government that she does," she said.

"The fact she hasn't signed the code of conduct demonstrates her unwillingness to be representative of the broader community."

"When you're elected you take on certain responsibilities and I call on all elected representatives to remember what those responsibilities are.

"I call on everyone to not be afraid to say you're from Bendigo today. Let's get a positive message out there about who we are."

State Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said she was appalled by Ms Chapman's behaviour.

"Her actions damage the reputation of Bendigo and they express a level of bigotry that is reprehensive," she said.

"There's a responsibility of elected officials to recognise their actions can be seen as reflecting their role and there's a responsibility to behave appropriately."

She rejected arguments Ms Chapman had tweeted from her private account, and the comments were not representative of her role as a councillor.

"Twitter and Facebook are public platforms and to claim otherwise is nonsense," she said.

UPDATE 8.30AM FRIDAY: Cr Chapman's twitter account still remains suspended this morning. 

The petition circulating online last night has also reached more than 400 supporters, calling for the removal of Cr Chapman from council.

Strong debate has raged on social media with both comments for and against her actions. See what people are saying on our Facebook page or below in the comments section.

UPDATE 8.30PM: 

A PETITION calling for the removal of City of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman from council is circulating online.

The Bendigo Advertiser believes the petition was started by a Bendigo resident.

It has attracted 57 signatures. 

The petition description reads, "Cr. Elise Chapman has continually embarrassed and degraded Bendigo in the eyes of the rest of the country. Her outdated and bigoted views on religion, together with the disgusting ways she gets them across, are bringing the entire town into disrepute. Her latest antic, Tweeting a photograph of infants with mutilated genitals, is pushing the boundaries of the law, and is certainly nothing any decent person would do. How much more will we take before she is removed from all public office."

UPDATE 7.05pm: 

A Twitter account belonging to City of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman has been suspended, days after she sent an image of babies with mutilated genitals to a woman who supports the Bendigo mosque development.

The account was operating as recently as this afternoon, but attempts to access the account after 6pm have failed.

Attempts to access a Twitter account belonging to Cr Elise Chapman have failed.

Attempts to access a Twitter account belonging to Cr Elise Chapman have failed.

The response reads: “The account you are trying to view has been suspended.”

No reason is given for the suspension.

The suspension comes four days after Cr Chapman tweeted the image to a Bendigo woman, writing "Oh we could have this here too? Would you like your fanny sliced off?".

The tweet was a photograph of five girls, who appear to be aged no older than two, crying as they lie on the floor with blood seeping from their wounds.

Fairfax Media has decided not to publish the image.

According to guidelines from Twitter’s help centre, accounts are generally suspended for violations of the Twitter Rules.

Common reasons for account suspension include mass following or unfollowing in a short time span, following inappropriate people, posting inappropriate content, including sexually explicit and offensive, and phishing and privacy breaching.

Twitter says it may also suspend accounts for investigation if it suspects an account has been hacked or compromised.

UPDATED 6.10pm: City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Peter Cox said he immediately contacted Cr Chapman to express his concern about the tweet on Wednesday afternoon and had arranged to meet with her.

"Councillor Chapman's personal views certainly do not reflect that of the City of Greater Bendigo Council," he said.

"I'm disappointed that Councillor Chapman would post something of this graphic nature… I've initiated a process so we can discuss the issue.

"While councillors are individuals and are entitled to their own opinion, when it reflects on the GBCC it concerns me."

The woman who tweeted Cr Chapman on Sunday did not wish to be identified. She said she had simply wanted to show support for the mosque.

"I did not put in a complaint, although everyone was pushing for it and I was beginning to consider it," she said.

"The whole thing just really upset me though.

"I felt almost threatened, the way she spoke, the photos she shared, all from showing my own, personal support for Bendigo's mosque."

The Islamic Council of Victoria have been contacted for comment.

EARLIER: A local councillor opposed to the building of a mosque in Bendigo sent a disturbing image of babies with mutilated genitals to a woman who supported the development.

City of Greater Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman tweeted the image to a Bendigo woman on Sunday, writing "Oh we could have this here too? Would you like your fanny sliced off?".

The tweet was a photograph of five girls, who appear to be aged no older than two, crying as they lie on the floor with blood seeping from their wounds.

Fairfax Media has decided not to publish the image.

The woman had first tweeted Cr Chapman, writing "I hope the mosque  gets built soon, it's great to see someone who cares about all Bendigo residents and their religions".

Cr Chapman has been an outspoken critic of the mosque, and described herself as "not a fan of Islam".

"I wouldn't want to live near a mosque. Would you?" she said after council approved the mosque last year. She said at the time that under Islam, 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."

She later backed her comments, saying: "The people of Bendigo have every right to object to the application for a mosque without being labelled a racist or bigot."

Cr Chapman was one of only two councillors to vote against the proposal to build a mosque in Bendigo East. The developers received a planning permit in June 2014.

A group of residents are challenging the decision to grant a permit on planning and social grounds in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

They have also raised concerns about the impact of "Sharia Law" on their community.

The VCAT hearing continued this week, with a decision not expected for months. Cr Chapman describes herself as "proudly Team Australia" on Twitter, and writes that the views she shares are hers, and not those of the council.

She has not signed the council code of conduct, saying she does not agree with its contents.

The code states that councillors will treat all people with courtesy and respect, including "treating members of the community with dignity and ensuring that neither offence nor embarrassment are caused".

Councils must implement a code of conduct under the Local Government Act, which contains general guidelines for behaviour but makes no mention of social media.

It is believed councillors are bound by the code of conduct regardless of whether or not they have signed it.

Councillors who have their conduct questioned may have to face a Municipal Association of Victoria councillor conduct panel.

But Cr Chapman said that because she had sent the image from a personal Twitter account, and they were her own views, she did not consider it relevant that she was a councillor.

Council had not told her whether an official complaint had been made.

She repeatedly referred to an ABC article published in 2010 that was posted to her on Twitter after she had tweeted the photo. The article stated that 600 to 700 women had reported to the Royal Melbourne hospital with some form of genital mutilation in a single year.

"I don't support many things Islam does and inequality and female genital mutilation are high on that list," she said.

"We have more than 600 women presenting to one hospital with female genital mutilation each year and not one person is getting arrested for it.

"If I came at you on the street with a pair of scissors and cut your genitals, I'd get arrested for it."

Cr Chapman said that many Muslims did not assimilate into society, and that the Koran supported dangerous ideas, but she was only opposed to building a mosque on planning grounds.

"I understand that not every Muslim is a radical or a terrorist, there are some moderate Muslims. I don't know if you've read the Koran, I have and I don't agree with it."

"What is in there is very dangerous, very dangerous indeed."

- The Age

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