Hunter Valley mosque approved in heated meeting

July 22, 2016
Outside the council meeting.

Plans to build a mosque in Buchanan in the Hunter Valley, NSW, were approved 6–4 after nearly two hours of emotional speeches at a meeting of Cessnock Council on July 20.

The Newcastle Muslim Association applied to build a 390 square-metre place of worship and funeral home on 23 hectares at Buchanan, south of Maitland.

But the 12 residents who spoke against the mosque said it is too big, will create traffic congestion and noise and is inappropriate in a rural area. Some also said they were concerned about the safety of their children travelling to school and feared increased crime.

But councillors voted in favour of the mosque because, as Labor Councillor Morgan Campbell said: “The planning case was comprehensive — it's fundamentally a planning decision. The council report was very clear, the planning issues are addressed really well.”

Opponents associated with anti-Islam group Reclaim Australia immediately took to social media to brand the local council "traitors" and pledged that the fight is "not over". Some promoted violence against both the planned mosque and the council chambers. "Sounds like the council chambers might need a bomb," one man wrote on an anti-mosque Facebook page, while three others proposed setting the mosque on fire. Another post said residents "need to bring out the fighter in all of us and make them think twice about where they want to lay their hijabs".

Protests continued with placards displayed outside council chambers linking the mosque to terrorism and paedophilia. The first placard listed terror attacks around the world with the heading "enough is enough", while the second read in part: "Where [sic] only interested in good people and good values in our community. Dosn't matter what religion or race we have no room for pedafiles, rapist, suisiders, murderers [sic]."

Dr Niko Leka was one of 16 people who spoke in favour of the mosque at the council meeting. This is an edited version of his speech.

* * *

I speak in favour of the proposal to build a mosque at Buchanan.

I'm from Mayfield West. When I moved here in 1996, it was dead, aside from a fish and chip shop. Now on one block there are Catholics running Penola House for refugees, an Indian doctor, an African hair parlour, an Asian massage centre, a Greek Orthodox running the fish and chip shop and his daughter who converted to Islam running the coffe shop next door, Hare Krishna's running a restaurant, a Pakistani-run 711, and just down the road, a Buddhist temple. Oh, and I forgot, a couple of blocks away, there is a Mosque.

The sky hasn't fallen in on Mayfield West.

I'm originally from Western Sydney. A few years ago I'd visit a mate in Cabramatta after work. The only thing open was the pub. On the way home, it was shut as well. Then the Vietnamese came: look at it now, its bustling well into the night.

I've read the excellent planning document that came out of your community consultations. It says people want a Cessnock that has reinvented itself, away from coal. It wants alternative, sustainable employment away from traditional primary and secondary industry. It wants to create a multicultural program to support diversity, to improve the image of Cessnock, to be a cohesive and welcoming community. It also wants development that is not “Cessnock-centric”.

This proposal ticks all those boxes and more.

Unlike many DAs we've seen in Newcastle, it does more than pay its way. It provides for 224 parking spaces and is paying to have right and left hand turn lanes put in. In Newcastle, we've got a University Law School going up with 5000 staff and students and only three parking spaces!

It you want to develop a vibrant community, this is the way to start: I recommend you approve the proposal.

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