Daniel Andrews the premier of Victoria has declared that while he supports the right to protest, the rallies against the Bendigo Mosque were “unacceptable” and displayed “bigotry and ignorance”. Andrews stated that: “People have a right to protest peacefully, but there are limits. Bigotry is not an acceptable form of protest.”
Andrews made the comment after personally turning the first shovel on the contentious West Bendigo site that will be the first Islamic house of worship in the regional Victorian city. He was joined in his celebration by Islamic community leaders, local MPs and the Mayor (all protected by a very visible police presence).
The biggest protests of those referred to by Mr Andrews were two loud and sometimes violent rallies in 2015. The first in August shut down the city centre as mosque opponents and bussed in extreme left activists confronted one another. Fireworks ensuing when the the leftists publicly burned an Australian flag and large numbers of police required to keep the two sides apart.
Two months later a large crowd of over a thousand mosque opponents waving a sea of Australian flags marched to the rotunda at Rosalind Park while 400 police watched on. The extreme left on that occasion were massively outnumbered and had to be protected from the people they had travelled up from Melbourne to attack. Unreported as usual by the media was the fact that Red flags of Marxism dominated this counter protest along with their usual accompaniment of Socialist Alternative branded banners.
Despite Daniel Andrews dismissing the Mosque opponents as out of towners who “couldn’t even spell Bendigo”, the anti-mosque campaign was clearly a grassroots effort. More than 400 objections were lodged by locals against the mosque’s planning application and at one council meeting, 200 very loud locals packed the gallery and demanded the mayor’s resignation as terrified councillors were escorted away by police. The conflict even led to some of the first convictions under Victoria’s infamous “blasphemy laws” forbidding religious vilification with right wing activists Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson brought before the court for a mock beheading held outside the Bendigo council offices.
Local police in Bendigo in the wake of the ground-breaking ceremony have made an announcement that they will “step up patrols and be on the lookout for prejudice motivated crime”. Considering the Premier’s clearly prejudiced attitude towards people simply trying to protest an unpopular development in their own town an investigation could do worse than start with him.