4:00AM Wednesday Jul 01, 2009
The total irony of this stupidity is, that they think they have made a win for freedom, and democracy is working as it should. Yeah they might want to check and see exactly how much freedom and democracy is likely to be taught in an Islamic school. Good luck with that one.
By Greg Ansley
CANBERRA - Sydney's Muslims have won the latest battle to establish schools for their children in a gruelling campaign against strident local opposition.
Liverpool Council, in the city's southwest, has approved a school for 800 Islamic students in the suburb of Hoxton Park, rejecting a bid by three councillors to overturn an earlier decision to allow the project.
Islamic educators had previously won an appeal against Bankstown Council's rejection of its proposal to build a school for 1200 students at Bass Hill that would be one of the largest in Australia.
But they have also lost bids to build schools in the rural town of Camden, on Sydney's western fringes, and in the Liverpool suburb of Austral.
Although religious and ethnic issues were raised by objectors - especially at Camden - the rejections of Islamic proposals have been based on zoning, traffic and similar issues.
New South Wales has half the approximately 30 Islamic schools in Australia, with 168,000 of the country's 322,000 Muslims living in the state.
Just under 10 per cent of the population of the City of Liverpool is Islamic.
Liverpool Council approved the Hoxton Park proposal in early June, but was forced by the vote of three councillors to establish an independent panel to investigate local concerns, most of which were based on increased traffic volumes. But Ikebal Patel, of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said a movement within Sydney had taken it to heart that "anything that is Islamic, they would oppose".
The NSW Association of Independent Schools also said that traffic objections appeared to have become "code for prejudice".
On Monday night the report of the independent panel was presented to a packed council chamber, which greeted its ruling that the school would not harm the local or regional road network with boos and cheers.
"The proposed siting of buildings and operation of the proposed educational establishment minimises any impacts on the amenity of surrounding residential properties," the report said.
But outside the meeting infuriated locals blasted the council's decision.
"It's devastating," one man told ABC radio. "They just haven't any regards for the concerns of the people in the area."
Another opponent said, "To me it sounds like the council aren't hearing the residents of Hoxton Park." But Geoff Newcombe, of the Independent Schools Association, told the ABC any schools - state, Catholic or independent - had the right to set up in any area as long as they complied with planning conditions, as the Hoxton proposal did.
"I think it shows that our democracy is working and that we're not responding to emotional or racial pressures," he said.
Last month Liverpool Council rejected another plan for an Islamic school at Austral because of zoning and traffic concerns.
At Camden, opposition to a proposed 900-student Islamic school took any ugly turn when two pig's heads were impaled on stakes on the site, opponents claimed the school would be a breeding ground for terrorists, and four Christian churches said Islam's views were incompatible with the Australian way of life.
The NSW Land and Environment Court this month upheld Camden's city council's rejection of the proposal, finding it was inconsistent with rural zoning objectives.
But the court forced Bankstown City Council to allow the new school at Bass Hill after dismissing traffic, noise and environmental objections, and asking if the council would have raised similar objections if the application had been for an Anglican school.