BENDIGO’S political, business, religious and community leaders have sent a strong message that the city embraces people of all faiths and cultures.
A group of more than 40 representatives have put their name to the statement, which can be read here. The message of inclusiveness was prompted by plans by far-right groups to hold a rally in the city to protest the approval of the city’s first mosque.
La Trobe Bendigo head of campus Robert Stephenson said cultural diversity would help Bendigo continue to thrive in future.
“[Diversity] stimulates creativity and people who bring different experiences and different ideas are really important to Bendigo’s development,” he said.
“Allowing people to have their own beliefs is really important in an open, democratic city.”
Nationals Member for Northern Victoria Damian Drum condemned the far-right groups’ attempts to block the mosque as “un-Australian”.
“Everyone has the right to their own opinion but when you express that opinion in a forceful manner that says my opinion is worth more than yours, that is un-Australian,” he said.
“Any religious group that wants to build a place of worship should be able to do so.”
Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan said the city had a proud migrant history.
“Bendigo was built off the back of a mass intake of migrants, in particular the Chinese,” she said.
“We wouldn’t be the city we are today without people coming here from around the world to make their fame and fortune and that is something worth celebrating.”
Haven; Home, Safe chief executive officer Ken Marchingo said Bendigo was the “most vibrant, fabulous, progressive regional centre in Australia” but risked losing this distinction due to the actions of a few.
“There are people out there who are so blinkered by bigotry, hostility and fear that they would tear down the reputation of this city because of their narrow-minded views,” he said.
“Those narrow-minded views are deeply hurtful to a great many people and its important for or city leaders to stand together and say ‘this is not Bendigo’.”
Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said Bendigo was an inclusive community.
“For the last 160 years, we’ve come together and celebrated what we have in common and shared what we don’t,” she said.
Bendigo Muslim community spokesman Heri Febriyanto said he was overwhelmed by the public show of support for Bendigo residents’ right to freedom of religion.
“It’s very exciting. I feel great because I believe Bendigo has a strong history of being a multicultural city,” he said.
Mr Febriyanto said he was humbled to receive such wide-reaching support from business, council, religious and community leaders. He said the Muslim community felt overwhelmingly welcome within the city.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal recently upheld Bendigo council’s decision to approve the city’s first mosque after an appeal by a group of residents.
Mr Febriyanto said it was unclear when work on the mosque would begin.