Standing up to Islam requires (more than) a thick skin. The City of Casey in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs just rejected another Mohammedan land grab under its ‘controversial’ mayor Casey Mayor Sam Aziz.
City of Casey council reject mosque application
City of Casey council has told the Saarban Islamic Trust their mosque will not be built in Narre Warren. (The AGE)
A plan to build a new mosque in Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs has been unceremoniously dumped by Casey council, in an unusual meeting on Tuesday night that was more reminiscent of a staged political announcement.
Only about half of the people who turned up to watch the proceedings, many wielding banners with slogans such as “Stop Racism Now”, were able to fit into the council chambers.
About one hundred were left outside, the doors to the civic centre guarded by a line of police.
Inside, Casey Mayor Sam Aziz read out a pre-prepared speech endorsing a recommendation by council officers not to allow a permit for the mosque with a “typical Islamic dome style roof” and 25-metre minaret on a vacant rural property on Belgrave-Hallam Road in Narre Warren.
He slammed a report in The Age suggesting that pressure from far-right groups had helped kill off the mosque plan, and added an additional, hard-line, clause in the motion to be voted on by council.
People gather at Casey Council to hear the mosque decision. Photo: Aisha Dow
The clause said that council will “allocate every resource necessary and required to defend the decision at other jurisdictions should there be a challenge to the decision”. This means the council will fight the rejection if it is appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
Cr Aziz said the only group of people outside the council officers who had an impact on council’s decision were Casey residents, many of whom he said expressed legitimate concerns about the application.
These concerns were backed up by council planning officers, who found the proposed “height, bulk and prominence” of the mosque and the 153 car spaces would “result in a dominant built form and excessive hard paving and is not considered to be sympathetic to the landscape and scenic qualities of the area”.
Anti racism crowds protested at the Casey Civic Centre. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Meanwhile, VicRoads also objected to the proposal, finding it was “premature” and did not “represent sufficient orderly planning in the area”.
During his speech, Cr Aziz lashed out at the mosque applicants, the Saarban Islamic Trust, because they had told the media they believed they had negotiated an agreement with the council.
“I suggest to you that you have not endeared yourself to anyone making these comments and I also respectfully suggest that in future you consider your comments in the context of the truth not just your own self interest,” Cr Aziz said.
The Saarban Islamic Trust was not given an opportunity to respond during the special council meeting, as no public submissions were allowed. Photography was also banned, preventing the media taking photos of the signs being held by the crowd.
Cr Aziz’s address was followed by another pre-prepared speech by Cr Rafal Kaplon, before councillors unanimously voted to reject the mosque plan and the public were asked to leave the gallery.
Less than a minute after the closure of the meeting, as people were still filing out, some of them chanting, the mayor asked police to “remove people from the public gallery please”. Despite the instruction, the protest appeared to remain peaceful.
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A Councillor Conduct Panel recently found Cr Aziz guilty of misconduct for referring to Cr Kaplon, a member of the LGBT community, as a “parasitic mosquito who thrives by spreading bloodborne viruses between otherwise healthy people” in an email sent to councillors and staff.
At the time, Cr Aziz denied the comments were a reference to Cr Kaplon’s sexuality.
Cr Aziz has also been criticised for his comments about Muslims in the wake of the 2014 Endeavour Hills police shooting when he used a Facebook post to tell Muslim leaders who felt alienated in Australia to ‘go back to somewhere in the desert in Arabia’ where they could ‘engage in oppression, violence and any other seventh century activity that does not belong in a civilised country in our time.’ (More here)
Afterwards, members of the local Muslim Pakistani community, who were among those locked out of the meeting, said they wondered if it was worth attending, because it was clear a decision had already been made.
Electronics engineer Taf Chaudhry and Cranbourne real estate agent Waseem Asif said many Muslims believed it was impossible to get a permit for a mosque in Australia.
“It is quite shameful if you think about it because I feel that I’m an Australian, but I would never do to any other community anything like that myself,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“It is almost hurtful to think about.”
The mosque would have mostly catered to around 470 Urdu and Hindi-speaking Muslims originally from India, Pakistan and Fiji. There were also future plans for an Islamic school with specialist farm program for 1000 students and staff on the block, which is zoned Green Wedge.
Casey council issued a press release shortly after the meeting saying the city made its planning decisions on planning grounds. “Council has a record of approving mosques and Islamic schools (as well as similar facilities of other religions) where they meet planning requirements, and opposing them where they do not,” the statement from Cr Aziz said.
The mosque proposal received 1003 objections from the community, while a Facebook page “Stop the Mosque in Narre Warren” – which selectively shares articles that present Muslims in a poor light – has more than 10,000 likes.
Only around 86 of these “likes” came from people living in Narre Warren.
The council had also been under pressure from the United Patriots Front to reject the plan.