Community, business, political and religious leaders in Bendigo joined forces this morning to launch a campaign they hope will brand the city as a welcoming and harmonious place to live, visit and do business in the face of a series of protests and rallies against a proposed mosque.
‘Believe in Bendigo’ was about sending a clear and simple message that the community did not tolerate racism, said small business owner Jayson Tayeh.
Mr Tayeh brought the issue up with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten when he appeared on the ABC’s Q&A last night.
“To be honest, I though it was the most real and honest answer that [Mr Shorten] gave all night,” Mr Tayeh said this morning.
“It was a very passionate response and I think it was quite personal and I don’t think it had any political agenda behind it, I think it was quite a specific response to what Mr Shorten believes that a lot of community members in Bendigo feel.”
The owner of Cafe Cortille said he would like to see Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull join the opposition leader’s unequivocal commendation of intolerance.
“It is important that our political leaders stand up for grass roots communities, but what we what we need to do as a community is start campaigning for ourselves and in Bendigo that means spreading the message that we are inclusive and diverse.”
Mr Tayeh said the organisers of ‘Believe in Bendigo’ were concerned about the effects that a small minority were having on the reputation of Bendigo.
Last week, Bendigo East MP and current acting Premier Jacinta Allan called on all community leaders to condemn the actions of a group of more than 100 anti-mosque protesters who stormed a council meeting, forcing the mayor and other local councilors to leave with a police escort for their own safety.
Leaders from the Bendigo Business Council , Muslim, Catholic and Anglican, Chinese community were among those who did so and many were in attendance this morning.
"’Believe in Bendigo’ is a group that is highly motivated, highly committed and highly diverse,” Mr Tayeh said.
“It’s made up of people who have stood up for this city many times before, and won, people who campaigned for the Calder Highway duplication, who campaigned for a solution to fix the water crisis and who campaigned for the $600 million new hospital for Bendigo.
“‘Believe in Bendigo’ includes people from all walks of life... leaders from all Bendigo faiths and all Christian congregations, representatives from all sides of politics and from all suburbs.
“We love this city and we are fiercely determined for our amazing community and economy to continue to thrive in our increasingly global and connected world.”
Mr Tayeh said the ‘Believe in Bendigo’ initiative aimed to get the community speaking out with one voice against discrimination toward minorities.
“Until now we haven’t created a platform to give voice to what I think a lot of people are saying and doing,” he said.
“What we need to do now is come together as a community rather than a group of individuals.”
‘Believe in Bendigo’ is organising a community event for October 2.
For more information head to their Facebook page.