Locked out

An artists impression of the proposed mosque.

By Brendan Rees

A strong police and security guard contingent was present at Bunjil Place after rowdy anti-mosque protesters were locked out of a Casey council meeting on Tuesday 16 July.

About 70 angry protesters were kept out of a council chamber room where councillors approved plans for a mosque in Narre Warren North.

The mob was forced to view a live broadcast of the meeting on a big screen in a room next door where about 200 chairs had been set up.

The closed door meeting was described by some as “orchestrated” and “manipulative” with councillors not wanting to “hear our objections.”

Only about 20 people were allowed to sit in the same room as councillors. One protester shouted “cowards” when he realised he could not enter.

According to a council document, 859 objections were received to the Saarban Islamic Trust’s application for a proposed a mosque on Belgrave-Hallam Road in Narre Warren North.

It’s proposed to provide 226 car spaces, and cater up to 372 patrons.

Four Oaks Ward Cr Rosalie Crestani put forward a completely opposite motion to what was originally recommended by council officers who advised councillors to go ahead with the mosque plan.

Cr Crestani said the proposal was inconsistent with the purpose of the Green Wedge A Zone, particularly the conservation and enhancement of the character of the semi-rural landscape.

The mosque’s operational hours would result “in a detrimental impact on the amenity of the area,” she explained.

One objector, she said, stated the proposed building would increase traffic, particularly near two primary schools, “potentially putting students at risk (and) will create more traffic and parking issues.”

Cr Crestani added: “To approve this is to break promises of those policies that were in fact created to protect Narre Warren North and the Foothills.”

Mayor Amanda Stapledon said she understood the public’s “emotion” but after speaking with the applicants onsite and looking at the “plans very thoroughly,” she said she could “not find any fault” with the application.

“In the first application they put in I had no hesitation in refusing but this one was very different,” she said.

Cr Stapeldon said the applicants “went over and above” with their plans, adding the mosque would “blend in with the environment and with the community.”

When asked why the public had been barred from entering the meeting she said “We thought it was all going to be fine but history tells us that it wasn’t always the case.”

“We were working with VicPol (Victoria Police) to make sure everyone was safe.”

Neighbour Terry Ryan who who moved to the area 20 years ago for the rural landscape said he was disappointed with council’s decision.

“They didn’t answer questions that the community have asked over recent months,” he said.

Cr Wayne Smith said the council report had “good grounds” of approving the proposed mosque.

“It doesn’t look anything like a mosque. You’re going to be pretty hard pressed to see much of the building from the road anyway,” he said.

After the plan was approved, protesters stormed out of the room next door. Valentina Crnkovic of Endeavour Hills shouted the split room set-up “stunk”.

“It was orchestrated so that they didn’t hear our objections,” she said.

“This was predetermined – that screen was only for show. There was no room for discussion, there was no views, no public opinion, there was nothing considered in this meeting,” Ms Crnkovic said.

Another protester Mark, who asked his surname not to be published said: “We’re not saying we want to hate anyone,” but “Islam has produced itself and proven itself to be what the four letter word we call evil – against the values in our system.”

The meeting was also live-streamed on Facebook which garnered more than 3,000 views.

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