ACT News

Gungahlin mosque opponents lose court battle

A Christian fundamentalist who vigorously fought the construction of a Canberra mosque has controversially linked the development with the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls and the Boston Marathon bombing.

Canberra Muslim Community members, Mohammed Yunus, President Yasser Dabhoiwala, Nazre Sobhan, and Borhan Ahmed outside ...
Canberra Muslim Community members, Mohammed Yunus, President Yasser Dabhoiwala, Nazre Sobhan, and Borhan Ahmed outside the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Jay Cronan

Speaking after losing a long-running court battle against the mosque on Friday, Concerned Citizens of Canberra president Irwin Ross said he did not have a problem with the capital's Muslim community, but rather ''what's operating behind them''.

''There's a lot of good Muslim people, I know some of them,'' Mr Ross said. 

Concerned Citizens of Canberra president Irwin Ross outside the ACT Supreme Court.
Concerned Citizens of Canberra president Irwin Ross outside the ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Jay Cronan

''But you have the effect of mosques around the country and certainly when you look at overseas some of it's horrendous. 

''We have to look at it and say: is this going to be compatible with Australia, with the freedoms we fight for, the freedoms we cherish and the freedoms we need to have in the future?''

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He said acts such as the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls by vigilante group Boko Haram, and the Boston Marathon bombing, begged the question, ''What's behind all this?'' 

A judgment in the ACT Supreme Court on Friday paves the way for the mosque to be built in Gungahlin, following a protracted court battle that began in August 2012.

An artist's impression of the proposed Gungahlin Mosque.
An artist's impression of the proposed Gungahlin Mosque. Photo: Supplied

The 500-capacity mosque, to be built on The Valley Avenue in Gungahlin, was approved by the city's planning authority in 2012, but was met with strident opposition by the Concerned Citizens of Canberra group.

Canberra Muslim Community members, including president Yasser Dabhoiwala, welcomed the decision on Friday, saying it reinforced Australian values.

''It was a tough time the last two years when we were going through this and we were in a dilemma over what was going to happen,'' Mr Dabhoiwala said.

''Now we can concentrate on completing the project so the community can begin to worship there.''

Group member Nazre Sobhan said the overall support for the project had shown the strength of the wider Canberra community.

''We are an enlightened community in Canberra. We are not a bigoted community.''

But Mr Ross said the Concerned Citizens of Canberra group was in ''shock and disbelief'' after the decision was handed down. 

He had not ruled out an appeal against the decision and said the group would seek legal advice in coming days.

''We'll have to see where we stand because legal costs aren't cheap. We'll be looking at the paperwork to see where our legal position on it will be.''

But Mr Ross said the fight wasn't primarily against the Muslim community, but against the ACT government. He said due process had been ''manipulated''.

The Concerned Citizens of Canberra had delivered thousands of flyers to Gungahlin homes which urged residents to oppose the development because of its "social impact", "public interest" and concerns about traffic and noise.

The group then took planning authorities to court, first disputing the government's refusal to extend the public consultation period and later extending its action to the decision to approve the development.

It challenged both decisions as “defective”, attacking each on a wide range of administrative grounds.

It also said the approval of the mosque violated the Australian constitution by restricting the free exercise of religion, except by those of the Islamic faith.   

But Supreme Court Master David Mossop found the group had no standing to challenge either decision, and wouldn’t have won even if they had demonstrated standing.

The Supreme Court judgment revealed Mr Ross’s “generalised hostility” to the Muslim religion and its perceived spread.

According to the judgement, Mr Ross set out his views in a statement described as the group’s “civil concerns as to the preservation of character of Gungahlin and North Canberra”, which include the following controversial paragraphs:

“With the spread of mosques/schools, the property value of the land diminishes greatly.”

“Local residents are often “encouraged” or intimidated to sell their homes at lower prices.”

“Another effect of the negative effect of Islam growing in our nation is that public/government opinion is noticeably becoming anti-Christian and pro-Islam, for example in the Defence Forces.”

Mr Ross went on to say that the Gungahlin development represented a "spiritual concern and challenge to the Christian beliefs" of the group, before setting out what he claimed to be differences between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Master Mossop noted this attempt to distinguish the three faiths did not “reflect any degree of theological sophistication”.

The court dismissed the group's case and awarded costs against them.