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Bendigo mosque approved amid protests

Controversial plan to build a mosque in Bendigo is approved despite ugly scenes from angry locals at a council meeting on Wednesday.

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A $3 million mosque has been approved in East Bendigo amid fury from a group of residents who demanded to know what “safety measures” had been taken to prevent a terrorist attack in the regional centre.

The controversial plan was brought to a head on Wednesday night, when councillors voted 6-2 to approve the building be used for daily prayers, community lectures and weddings.

Vocal protesters, some carrying placards, packed the chamber for two hours of fierce debate over the Rowena Street proposal. One woman asked the councillors if they would be able to sleep at night if Islam “descended” on Bendigo.

An artist's impression of the proposed mosque for East Bendigo.

An artist's impression of the proposed mosque for East Bendigo.

One councillor also read out letters which voiced fears about Islam. Cr Elise Chapman repeated comments around Muslims having more children than Australians do.

When another councillor, Mark Weragoda, was speaking in favour of the proposal one of the protesters played Middle Eastern music.

When Cr Weragoda said the mosque would be used for funerals and marriages, a member of the gallery replied: "yeah, to young girls". 

Police were called in to maintain order at the meeting.

Police were called in to maintain order at the meeting. Photo: Jim Aldersey

Following the ugly meeting, a spokesman for the mosque developer, Munshi Nawaz, and said it was "fine" that people had expressed such strong views, as there was a lot of misinformation surrounding the mosque.

"It was to be expected and I don't think the views heard tonight really represent how Bendigo feels about Islam as a religion," he said.

"I have lived in Bendigo for six years and am welcomed by the community."

Protesters at the meeting.

Protesters at the meeting. Photo: Jim Aldersey

The state member for Bendigo East, Jacinta Allan, said the views of the “mob” did not represent the majority of the local community. In fact, she said some of the protesters did not even come from Bendigo.

“I think the councillors who stared down intolerance should be applauded,” she said.

“The general view [on the mosque] is that it’s just a planning matter that should be treated like any other planning matter.”

The project, funded by the Australian Islamic Mission, attracted more than 400 objections. Many of the submitters based their opposition on religious grounds, including fears the mosque would create of a Muslim “enclave” and a drop in house prices.

However council officers concluded there was no reason not to grant the permit for the two-storey mosque with a minaret, subject to a number of conditions.

“The weight of objections received is not of in itself sufficient reason to refuse any planning application,” the officers wrote.

The planning report found that the proposal would provide a “net benefit” by providing cultural facilities for the community.

A Facebook page “No Mosque in Bendigo” has attracted more than 7000 "likes" and is littered with comments from people who believe Muslims plan to “take over” Australia.