Race rally fear over Elermore Vale mosque

ELERMORE Vale residents fear an anti-Muslim protest today will fuel a race debate and hijack their concerns over controversial plans for a $6million mosque in the suburb.

Right wing nationalist group the Australian Protectionist Party said on its website that it would protest in Civic Park against the proposed mosque.

The party claimed the rally was being held on behalf of residents opposed to the development.

But an Elermore Vale residents’ group has distanced itself from the protest, saying it would frustrate community efforts to have the development rejected on planning grounds.

Newcastle deputy lord mayor Shayne Connell said yesterday that he and residents were disappointed the process had been railroaded by race and religious differences.

Cr Connell said it created a situation where legitimate planning concerns could be dismissed.

‘‘When groups like this take an issue on board all opposition to it is lumped in together,’’ he said.

A ‘‘call to action’’ at the party’s website said a mosque at Elermore Vale would encourage more Muslims to move to the area.

‘‘We were letting Muslims build mosques in Australia when Muslim countries would not let us build churches in their country,’’ Sydney-based spokesman for the party Nick Folkes told the Newcastle Herald yesterday.

Mr Folkes said the Newcastle Muslim Association was paying for the ‘‘mega mosque’’ using offshore money and could appoint an overseas Imam (religious leader) bringing radical extremists to the area who were violent towards non-Muslims.

The association could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

The protectionist party was involved in protests last year against a mosque in Perth’s Swan Valley.

That mosque was rejected by the local council based on planning rules, though the decision was criticised as anti-Muslim.

Geoff Byrne, president of the newly formed Elermore Vale Community for Appropriate Residential and Environmental Strategies or EV CARES, said his group wanted to ‘‘distance ourselves totally from the party’’.

‘‘Their ideals are different from the ideals of the EV CARES group,’’ Mr Byrne said.

‘‘We are protesting solely on the fact that we believe it is not the right place for such a large development.’’

Members of the protectionist party previously held a public meeting in Elermore Vale at which an anti-Muslim video was shouted down by residents in attendance.

Mr Byrne said he had agreed to allow the party to hold a meeting at the Shaft Tavern before he was aware what the group was about.

‘‘In hindsight I would never have had that meeting,’’ he said.

‘‘At the time they were the only ones speaking out against the development.’’

EV CARES will hold a community meeting on Wednesday night to discuss planning concerns with Cr Connell.

Newcastle City Council is assessing the development application for the mosque ahead of the Joint Regional Planning Panel determination expected early in the new year.

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