By Janine Cohen.
The businesswoman leading a fight against “intolerance and hate” in Bendigo says the city’s anti-mosque demonstrations must be stopped before they spread across Australia.
The central Victorian city has been the flashpoint for a series of rowdy demonstrations against the construction of a local mosque.
“I very strongly believe that the anti-mosque protesting can be stopped in its tracks here in Bendigo,” Margot Spalding, a former Telstra Business Woman of the Year, told Australian Story. Following an anti-mosque protest in August, Ms Spalding called a meeting of religious, business and community leaders, and the Believe in Bendigo campaign was launched.
“The idea that people would come to Bendigo from outside and protest about a mosque being built here took a lot of people by surprise,” said Reverend John Roundhill, Dean of the Anglican Church in Bendigo.
“People were not expecting the degree of anger and hate that we witnessed that day.”
There are reports of plans for more anti-mosque demonstrations in regional cities in Victoria and New South Wales.
UPF spokesperson Blair Cottrell told Australian Story the UPF “would go where we are needed”.
There are about 300 Muslims in Bendigo, many of whom are doctors, dentists, nurses, factory workers and university students.
They currently worship in a small crowded room at the local La Trobe University Campus.
The City of Greater Bendigo approved a permit for a mosque in June last year.
A small group of residents appealed against the decision in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), but it was dismissed.
The Victorian Supreme Court is now considering a further appeal and has reserved its decision.
Ms Spalding said she does not know “what all the fuss is about”, as there are several mosques in the nearby town of Shepparton.