Clayton mosque: Monash says 'yes' firmly

MONASH'S approval of a Clayton mosque last week is believed to be the first time an application for a new place of worship has been put to a vote at the council.

In the previous decade, the Church of Christ Fellowship in Clayton, the All Nations Presbyterian Church in Mulgrave and the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Mount Waverley were all given planning permits by council officers.

All, like the Beddoe Avenue mosque, are located in residential areas across Monash.

Mayor Micaela Drieberg said that normally council officers would decide such an application. "You would have heard many of the councillors question why it had even come to council," she said. "The vast majority of planning decisions are made by our staff."

The move by Mulgrave councillor Robert Davies to have the application heard before the council follows a furore over comments by local church leaders that a mosque would be a "training ground for ... religious fanatics".

Statements linking the mosque to terrorist training by senior members of the Monash Uniting Church were later withdrawn and condemned by the general secretary of the Victoria-Tasmania synod of the Uniting Church, Dr Mark Lawrence.

The vote permitting the mosque last Tuesday was followed by a loud expletive from a member of the crowd, who stormed out of the chamber when refused the opportunity to address the council.

In an at-times fiery debate that lasted almost an hour, the council moved to extend the mosque's opening time from 7.30am to 5.30am so that Muslims could take part in morning prayers.

Cr Davies was twice rebuked for speaking out of turn and was involved in heated exchanges with Ms Drieberg. He was the only councillor to oppose the application for the mosque.

Cr Davies said the location in a "quiet residential street" would cause problems.

"This is not in an appropriate location," he said. "This will help drive out the residents who are there and benefit the big property developers. We're not looking out for the little guy. I just don't think this is a good idea for the community."

Residents in Beddoe Avenue, where the mosque will be located, are worried about the potential for traffic congestion and noise from calls to prayer five times a day.

Representatives from the mosque said the call to prayer would only occur inside the mosque and parking would be provided on the university grounds, where the entrance to the building would be sited.

Cr Geoff Lake, who moved that the planning application be approved, said the Victorian Charter of Human Rights, as well as planning law, had to be considered. "I think it's required that we have a level of respect and cultural understanding.

"The idea that this mosque is not in an appropriate location ... it is adjoined and accessed from one of the biggest university campuses in the southern hemisphere."

Oakleigh Ward's Stephen Dimopoulos also supported the proposal. "This place has been a place of worship since 1994. Nineteen years," he said. 

"Immediately behind this place, there is a car park with about 200 spaces. We are supporting this because we know 90 per cent will be entering through Monash University. The reality is, most places of worship are in residential streets."

Shortly after the vote, Cr Davies used personal explanation time to stress he had nothing against Islam.

What do you think? Is the approval of a mosque different from that of a Christian church? Post a comment below.

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