A Bendigo businesswoman behind a vehement anti-mosque Facebook page has lost a tribunal bid to stay anonymous.
In a tearful and rambling appearance at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal today, Monika Evers, a co-administrator of the Stop The Mosque in Bendigo page, claimed she had been ‘‘villified’’ online by people who supported the Bendigo mosque proposal, feared for her safety and wanted her name kept out of the media.
But VCAT deputy president Mark Dwyer said there was ‘‘insufficient evidence’’ to support her claims of being threatened and that Ms Ever’s ‘‘perception’’ of biased, pro-mosque media reporting was not grounds to have her name suppressed.
When he announced his decision Ms Evers, a business consultant, withdrew her planning objection to the mosque. Her advocate Andrew Moyle told the tribunal: ‘‘She does not think she can carry through with this. To her the fears are real.’’
Other objectors to the two-level, $3m mosque on Bendigo’s outer-eastern fringe will tell the tribunal the planning application — passed by a majority of Bendigo councillors last month — breaches regulations concerning parking, noise and traffic. The Australian Islamic Mission, who operate a large mosque in Sydney’s Punchbowl, have also included a cafe and sports hall in their plans for the building. The land is vacant.
Queensland-based Far Right lobby group Restore Australia has paid for a Sydney lawyer often used in anti-mosque hearings, Robert Balzola, to appear at future VCAT hearings where the objections will be heard.
Last month Fairfax Media revealed Restore Australia had funded opponents of the Bendigo mosque, including Ms Evers and Julie Kendall, her co-administrator on the Facebook page, to help their campaign. Restore Australia is run by former One Nation candidate Mike Holt, a Vietnam veteran, and Charles Mollison, a former lieutenant-colonel who also served in Vietnam. Both men live on the Sunshine Coast. Yesterday Mr Mollison was stopped by police in Bendigo after he drove a truck bearing anti-mosque slogans through the city while broadcasting Muslim calls-to-prayer from a loudspeaker.
Restore Australia also administers a subgroup called Islam4Infidels, which issues written advice for people or communities wanting to campaign against mosques. Mr Holt said Restore Australia shared material and ideology with two groups in Britain - the English Defence League, known for anti-Islamic street protests, and Liberty Great Britain, a new far-right political party.
Ms Evers told the tribunal today that media reporting of the issue had ignored planning objections. ‘‘Instead we were vilified as racists and bigots.’’ She received three death threats on the anti-Islam Facebook page she helped create as well as posts from people hoping her or her children got cancer, she claimed. She told the tribunal she had been interviewed by ASIO and the Australian Federal Police in Bendigo but could not provide proof of the threats or the interviews.
At various times during her testimony Ms Evers had to stop or leave the tribunal room because she was crying or suffering nose bleeds.
Under questioning from a lawyer representing the Islamic Mission of Australia, Chris Townshend, Ms Evers admitted she had a personal blog about Christianity and had written that multiculturalism could not work alongside Islam. She also admitted that in her own objection to the council about the mosque she had said it would be a threat to the ‘‘way of life’’ in Bendigo and had included written material about refugees and migrants to Australia and Centrelink benefits.
‘‘You have chosen to be involved in the campaign,’’ Mr Townshend said. ‘‘With that choice comes responsibility and with that choice comes awareness of what you are getting into.’’ He said Ms Evers was a ‘‘publicist’’ for the anti-mosque campaign.