July 5, 2014, Sue Bolton, Right-wing groups fight Bendigo mosque, Green left Weekly. https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/56774

Many local residents in Victorian regional city Bendigo were shocked when right-wing groups from outside of Bendigo began mobilising residents against the proposal for the city’s first mosque.

The mosque is planned to be built on underdeveloped industrial land in East Bendigo. It is to include a prayer centre, a cafe and a sports centre which would be available for the general community to use.

A heated council meeting on June 18 approved the mosque plans by a vote of 7 to 2. However, opponents say they will appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Currently, Bendigo’s 300-strong Muslim community has nowhere to pray.

The Age reported on June 24 that 171 of the 254 objections to the mosque mentioned the influence of Islam and its association with violence and terrorism as their grounds of objection.

A facebook page “Stop the Mosque in Bendigo” has attracted more than 8000 likes”. Most of the posts incite hatred and even violence against Muslims.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute analysed the posts on the page and found that of a sample of 100 users who regularly post to the page, only 3% were from Bendigo, while 59% were from other states and territories, with most of these from Queensland. About 13% of the support was from overseas.

This analysis strongly supports the impression of many locals that the opposition to the Mosque was something imposed on Bendigo by outside racist groups. This tactic is new to Australia, but common in Britain and the United States.

The two main right-wing anti-Islam groups, which have been agitating in Bendigo, are the Q Society and Restore Australia.

Q Society is the group that brought the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Australia. It organised a meeting in Bendigo on May 11 to advise residents on how to campaign against the mosque. The leaflets it used to advertise the meeting reportedly described Islam as a “totalitarian ideology” that brings violence, misogyny, homophobia and economic stagnation.

In 2011, the Q Society organised a petition against Muslims using a community centre in Alma Road, St Kilda East for Friday prayer.

Restore Australia’s CEO is former Queensland One Nation candidate Mike Holt. Holt is also acting as a spokesperson for “Concerned Citizens of Bendigo”.

Restore Australia’s founder Charles Mollison travelled to Bendigo to meet with locals.

Holt confirmed to The Age on June 28 that his groups had contributed $10,000 to print anti-mosque material. The money was given to Stop the Mosque in Bendigo and the Victorian chapter of far-right racist group Patriot Defence League Australia.

Holt said the Bendigo mosque issue had brought anti-Islam groups together: “We were not united before. But this issue has managed to unite us.”

Holt says that his groups have raised money for a Sydney-based lawyer, Robert Balzola, to fight the mosque proposal in VCAT. In 2012, Balzola fought a mosque in Gungahlin, ACT.

Balzola has close links with right-wing NSW Legislative Assembly member Fred Nile and the right of the NSW Liberal Party. Previously, he opposed an Islamic school in Camden, NSW and a mosque in Doveton, VIC.

Restore Australia and Q Society are also campaigning against mosques in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Defence Force Conservative Action Network has also lodged an objection to the mosque.
Since early June, black balloons have been appearing in Bendigo, tied to items associated with people who support the Muslim community, as a threat.

Bendigo residents responded to the hatred being whipped up against Muslims by organising two impromptu actions in support of multiculturalism and diversity for religions and cultures on June 20 and 21.

The Uniting Church supported the actions, which attracted 30 people on the first evening and 200 people the next day. Reverend Cynthia Page of the Eaglehawk Uniting Church and Reverend Bryn Jones of Kangaroo Flat handed out brightly-coloured balloons with tags saying “racism has no place in Bendigo”.

Bendigo resident Damien Wells initiated an online petition that said: “Recent anti-Islamic sentiment in the media is not representative of the Bendigo I know and love. Sign this petition if you support multiculturalism and diversity in Bendigo. People of all cultures and religions need to know they are welcome in Bendigo and we embrace diversity.”

More than 2000 people have signed the petition.

It seems amazing that at a time when the federal government has brought down a far-right neoliberal budget that will destroy the lives of thousands of people, that groups are focusing on campaigning against Islam.

The anti-Islam groups claim that Islam is a “threat to the Australian way of life”.

There is a threat to the “Australian way of life” but it doesn’t come from Islam. It comes from the Coalition government and the big capitalists in the Business Council of Australia.

Their plan is to abolish welfare payments for unemployed people under 30, push elderly people and people with disabilities onto Newstart payments, make higher education unaffordable with debts that students take to the grave, and make healthcare unaffordable.

Their other plans are to slash the minimum wage, muzzle unions, and slash so-called red and green tape that protects people and the environment from unscrupulous companies.

These far-right, anti-Islam groups are silently complicit with this attack on ordinary Australians, regardless of whether they are Indigenous or non-indigenous, religious or non-religious.

Given that the federal budget cuts hit every single person, apart from the wealthy, it’s no wonder the government is trying to get people upset about “Aussie jihadists” and is ramping up the demonisation of refugees who come to Australia by boat.

The last thing the government needs is a mass movement that unites the majority of Australians, across race and religious lines, against the savage budget cuts.

The only threat that the people of Bendigo and elsewhere face is the from the neoliberal extremists who run the government and the big corporations.