Mosque debate: Bendigo council decides

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UPDATE 8.30PM: Applicant for Bendigo mosque says he's happy with outcome and encouraged freedom of speech. But says there has been a lot of misinformation. 

Protesters standing outside refuse to comment. Anger has dissipated. 

UPDATE 8.13PM: The plan for a mosque in Bendigo has been approved. 

UPDATE 8.12PM: The debate is ending in the vote. A division has been called. Duration is nearly one hour, 50 minutes.

UPDATE 8.11PM: It looks like the mosque will be approved, with six councillors for and two against.

UPDATE 8.09PM: Cr Fyffe has the floor. Says we need to remember people do live near mosques without problems

UPDATE 8.06PM: Cr Ruffell says other places of worship, cathedrals, The Great Stupa, have parking and traffic concerns. But they are allowed.

UPDATE 8.05PM: Cr Weragoda says the mosque will be used for marriages. Member of gallery yells "to marry young girls".

UPDATE 8.03PM: Cr Weragoda says he is angry 400 people are against multiculturalism. Cr Chapman says she is disgraced by that comment.

Cr Weragoda addresses gallery and says "look at my skin colour, I know bloody well about (multiculturalism)".

UPDATE 8PM: Resident plays Middle Eastern music as Cr Weragoda speaks.

Member of the gallery says "We the people of Bendigo don't want this mosque". Lone man stands up and says "I do". 

UPDATE 7.57PM: Cr Weragoda throws support behind mosque. Crowd say "pfft, how surprising".

UPDATE 7.56PM: Doesn't seem to be many mosque supporters here. If they are, they're keeping quiet. Baby cries as objectors once again shout in protest.

UPDATE 7.49PM: Cr Leach says some people don't understand what happens at mosques around the world. Does not give further explanation.

Cr Leach says it goes without saying that mosque will impact on residential amenity. Huge cheers, as expected.

UPDATE 7.46PM: As it stands, two councillors against mosque and three for. Their support has been met with deep anger from the public gallery.

Cr Cox mutters under his breath, "read the report", referring to the vocal protestors.

UPDATE 7.43PM: Cr Campbell supports mosque, says "we are all bound by the same laws in this country". Residents say safety is the responsibility of government.

Boos from crowd to Cr Campbell's support. No word from Cr Fyffe, Weragoda and Ruffell.

UPDATE 7.39PM: Cr Chapman says mosques have been refused elsewhere. Reads a letter from public saying mosque will compromise future options in area.

Cr Chapman reads letter saying jihadist groups kill people. She personally says the mosque will be run under Islamic regulations.

UPDATE 7.35PM: Debate has reached one hour duration.

UPDATE 7.29PM: Cr Chapman concerned about call to prayer. Planning director cannot guarantee future but says current application does not include it.

Wrong owner of land was "knowingly" put on application, says Cr Chapman. Planning director says mistake is quite common.

UPDATE 7.23PM: Cr Cox says it will be a challenge to implement all conditions. But it's on public record that "he will see conditions met".

Cr Cox says he supports multiculturalism, and that mosque would benefit Bendigo and promote freedom of belief.

UPDATE 7.20PM: People screaming and cursing. Uproar. Cr Cox unable to speak but keeps trying. Remaining professional amongst the chaos.

Residents yelling "we're not racist", saying "what about our rights".

UPDATE 7.16PM: Cr Cox says there will be no external call to prayer, which is included in the plan. Residents argue it's not the case.

Cr Cox tries to allay concerns. Residents call for councillors to sign a legal document to make themselves liable.

UPDATE 7.11PM: Laughs and mocking as Cr Cox gets up to speak. "Blah blah blah blah", says crowd.

Mayor Barry Lyons asks crowd for respect. Protesters says respect goes both ways.

UPDATE 7.08PM: Three people in crowd scream "you're lying" as Cr Williams says ward councillors met with residents.

Woman yells "how do you sleep at night" to Cr Williams speaks for mosque proposal.

UPDATE 7.05PM: Cr Cox has seconded the motion. 

UPDATE 7.03PM: Cr Leach's motion has been lost. Cr Williams have moved to approve the mosque development. Crowd is silent while he reads the proposal conditions.

UPDATE 6.58PM: Cr Cox being interrupted by protesters as he tries to speak against the deferral motion.

He says there is a consequence of not debating the matter tonight. Concerns it will go straight to VCAT and go out of council hands. 

Cr Williams says three ward councillors met and consulted with residents. Says if it goes to VCAT, council will end up with a lesser outcome.

UPDATE 6.51PM: Cr Chapman reads council policy on community consultation, which "residents have been denied". Huge cheer from audience.

Cr Chapman says Bendigo Airport has concerns. Cr Cox calls a point of order; Cr Chapman says the point is relevant. Angry residents in gallery tell him to "get out". 

UPDATE 6.46PM: Cr Leach says the proposal is the most important decision councillors will face. "Supposed to represent ratepayers", she says, "but I don't think we are".

Cr Leach says VCAT would look for community consultation - which hasn't occurred. 

UPDATE 6.43PM: Cr Cox calls point of order, resident says "she's actually listening to her constituents". Cr Leach says it's a councillor's job to listen.

UPDATE 6.40PM: Cr Leach says her prejudice is against not putting the same scrutiny on this debate that council does on other applications.

UPDATE 6.35PM: The mosque debate has begun. Cr James Williams moves a motion to approve the development. 

Cr Helen Leach then says she had her microphone light on first; moves to defer the motion for two months. 432 objections received. 

UPDATE 6.29PM: Protesters getting louder as question time moves on. Lots of groans and yelling as council directors attempt to speak.

One resident yells "why are we giving such a large platform to racism". Protesters fire back, saying it's not about race.

UPDATE 6.25PM: One woman asks if councillors could sleep well at night if Islam descended on Bendigo.

Residents have asked what qualifications City of Greater Bendigo planning director Prue Mansfield has. What "quality of control" has been put in place. 

UPDATE 6.23PM: Mayor Barry Lyons shuts down debate on mosque. Crowd furious. He repeats his previous statement that it's against policy to discuss planning matters on agenda.

UPDATE 6.22PM: "Your constituents have serious concerns".

UPDATE 6.18PM: Cheers as woman says there has been countless objections on "social" impact. Council director says hard to quantify. 

UPDATE 6.15PM: Christian resident says he "worships only one god" and is against mosque. Many in audience agree with his sentiment. 

UPDATE 6.10PM: Mayor refuses to answer planning question about mosque. Huge applause as anti-mosque protester states, "Once again the community is shut down".

UPDATE 6.05PM: Mayor Barry Lyons has asked there is "no interaction" from the gallery during the meeting. 

Police and security have safety concerns regarding tonight's meeting.

They say the meeting will be closed to public if matters get out of hand.

Question time begins - member of the public asks what council what safe measures have been taken to prevent a terrorist attack in Bendigo.

UPDATE 6PM: It's a full house at the City of Greater Bendigo meeting.

Most are expected to be in attendance for mosque decision.

Police and security guards are on hand. 

Councillors have arrived at the meeting. 

A group of protesters are handing out anti-Islam brochures which say "propagating Islam is contrary to law in free societies". 

UPDATE 5.50PM: Objectors walking into Bendigo Town Hall remain tight-lipped about their concerns. 

UPDATE 5.45PM: The applicant for the mosque is "confident" the proposal will be approved by councillors tonight.

UPDATE 5.35PM: Dozens of people are turning out for the City of Greater Bendigo meeting. 

EARLIER: AN influx of anti-muslim protesters are expected to attend the Bendigo council meeting tonight, as councillors vote on a $3 million mosque proposal for East Bendigo. 

The proposal has received an unprecedented 254 objections, with 67 per cent based on religious grounds and concern over the influence of Islam. 

The facility, planned for Rohs Road in East Bendigo and funded by the Australian Islamic Mission, will feature two prayer halls, education facilities, a community sports hall and office. 

More to come. 


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