Mayor confirms reason for mosque politics gag

Artist's impression of mosque planned for East Bendigo.
Artist's impression of mosque planned for East Bendigo.

CITY of Greater Bendigo mayor Barry Lyons has confirmed a planning permit condition to ban political discussion on the mosque site in East Bendigo was added by councillors to appease some members of the community. 

Councillor Lyons said the ban on political discussion was added "to satisfy some of the objectors about political stuff being taught on the premises".

"It was just a general consensus that it might have pacified the objectors to some degree but unfortunately it's not in our local government power to impose a condition like that," Cr Lyons said.

"The people at VCAT have pointed out to us that it's almost against the rules for freedom of speech to put a condition on like that."

Cr Lyons said there was no specific individual who put the condition to council and the decision received little scrutiny from councillors. 

"I don’t think there was a specific vote, it was just decided," he said.

It was just a general consensus that it might have pacified the objectors to some degree

Cr Barry Lyons

Cr Elise Chapman, who voted against the original mosque proposal, said mosques were for prayer, not politics. 

"As far as Islam goes, it isn't aligned with Australia politically. They have their own political agenda," Cr Chapman said.

"We are one nation, with one flag and one set of values.

"If in mosques they are preaching one political agenda that is not in alignment with our own Australian law and Constitution, I don't think that the Islamic political agenda should be preached in mosques."

Cr Helen Leach said she could not see how a ban on political discussion would be enforceable. 

"I don’t think we can enforce such a thing, I think the condition is ridiculous. How can you prevent that happening anywhere? Whether it’s a mosque or any public place?" Cr Leach said.

"I think you only have to look around Australia at the moment to know that there’s a lot of political discussions going on in various buildings and probably a mosque would be one of them," she said. 

Cr Rod Fyffe said the ban on political discussion was not in the original set of permit conditions for the site, but was added later. 

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal President Justice Greg Garde said on Friday the ban on political discussion raised a Constitutional issue in relation to freedom of speech. 

President Justice Garde made the remark as lawyers for the Australian Islamic Mission told the tribunal they would seek changes to the existing permit for the $3 million mosque.

Representing the Australian Islamic Mission, Chris Townshend, SC, told the tribunal his client would file a new VCAT application seeking to "tidy-up" some conditions of the permit, including altering a requirement of "no political discussion" on the site, by Monday.


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