Bendigo’s first mosque appears likely to go ahead after a Victorian court refused an appeal against its planning approval.
Bendigo residents Julie Hoskin and Kathleen Howard were seeking leave to appeal against the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s (VCAT) decision to uphold the local council’s planning approval for the mosque in August.
But the Victorian Appeals Court today refused their last bid to stop the project.
Speaking after the decision, Ms Hoskin said she would seek more legal advice, but wanted to take the matter to the High Court.
Approval for the mosque led to controversy and some divisions within the town.
Large protests were held in the centre of Bendigo in October, with opposing groups facing off with each other.
Police were also called to a Bendigo council meeting in September, which was disrupted by anti-mosque protesters, and councillors had to be escorted out of the building.
Barrister Peter King, who represented the two women trying to stop the mosque, had previously told the court both VCAT and the Greater Bendigo City Council failed in their legal obligations to fully consider the “social effect” of the mosque.
But in its ruling, the court stated freedom of religion was a human right and the mere worship of religion could not be seen as an adverse social impact under the law.
The court heard 435 objections had been lodged by residents.
Bendigo ‘welcomes all cultures, religions’
In court, lawyers for the council and the developers of the mosque asked that Ms Hoskin and Ms Howard cover their legal costs.
Ms Hoskin said she had been crowdfunding to cover her legal costs.
Pro-mosque group Believe in Bendigo said on its Facebook page that the decision was “great positive news”.
“In a nutshell, this is a huge step towards the mosque being built,” it said.
“It is also a huge day for all Bendigonians, for the city’s reputation and for the city’s future. We have all known that this appeal did not represent what Bendigo is truly about.
“Hopefully we can put this ugly part of our history behind us and get on with supporting what will be a magnificent addition to our community and testament to modern Bendigo.”
The group said the process had been fair and open, and the town welcomed people from all cultures and religions.