Two weeks ago, Penrith Council approved the Development Application for a Community Centre for the Muhammadi Cultural Association. Councillor Marcus Cornish, however, called a rescission motion to reverse the decision and hence an extraordinary meeting had to be called for Monday, December 8.
Cornish has been on the media about this issue – such as on Sydney radio station 2UE – where he made suggestions like that Muslims are behind Ice dealing and pedophile rings. Sensibly, the hosts squashed him pretty hard.
So we arrived again at a council meeting, which was covered in detail through my Twitter moment here. The same group of local racists (the type who like to say – “we’re not racists, but we hate Islam”) were there with their amateur signs painted on beer advertising. I went inside the library with Greens councillor for Penrith, Michelle Tormey, who had just talked to the gathered locals against the “Mosque”, despite former local One Nation candidate, Rick Putra, saying to the gathered people “it was a waste of time” talking to her. One person suggested that he would “stab her in the stomach” and another “prayed that (Michelle’s) 5 year old daughter wouldn’t marry a Muslim and be forced to have a circumcision”. It was little wonder Tormey wanted some respite in a library.
But eventually, we re-emerged, to see some bussed in racists from a newish outfit, The “Party for Freedom“. Not sure this is quite the same kind of freedom being asked for by Tim Wilson and the Institute of Public Affairs. This party’s signs had a swastika in the word “Islam”. Not racists, of course. They also didn’t seem to like Antifa, the anti-fascist association who had turned up to support the community centre (who were excellent at keeping the racists at bay – and props to the likes of Andy Fleming, aka Slackbastard, for helping to rally support).
There was also the addition this time of the extra angle of an Israeli flag (held by a bloke wearing an Australian Rugby League shirt).
And also fascists from the Australian Defence League taking video footage of protestors from Antifa.
The colour and movement outside was certainly entertaining in a strange kind of way – though this time, there were no fights, possibly helped by the presence of the NSW Police Anti-Riot squad.
Once inside, it was locals and supporters of the community centre that were neatly divided down the middle of the chamber, while the community outsiders – both Antifa and the various bussed in fascists from Australia First and the rest – chanted and argued outside.
Once inside, we were treated to a similar show to the one we saw two weeks ago. There were locals of various sorts supporting Cornish’s motion. The first, a baby boomer who used to live in Lidcombe making these claims:
And another from a suburb some distance away from the proposed community centre who objected to being called a “bigot” after the last meeting, making comments such as these:
Then the last speaker, a Mr. Manou, was a resident in the same street as the proposed centre – Clifford Rd, Kemps Creek, who was treading the line between concerned resident about traffic and racist. His line of attack was to quote an unnamed Liverpool Council worker who said the following:
This was a line of attack that was picked up later in the meeting from opponents to the community centre, both from the council and the crowd. This last speaker was good at whipping up cheers and howls from the gathered crowd – the first and last speakers were playing more to the crowd than speaking to the council. The Mayor, Ross Fowler, had to ask these speakers to not speak to the crowd but to council a couple of times. As the speaker went on, he got a mite excited later on – which was captured by these tweets:
To which the Mayor, Ross Fowler, responded,
Then it was time for the three speakers against the rescission motion to speak. Father David Smith, the Parish Priest from the Dulwich Hill Anglican Church was first up. He spoke at length about the peaceful nature of the Muhammadi association and its members, speaking of long experience of working with people from many faiths. He also spoke about the way extremist groups like ISIS pose a threat to Shia groups like the Muhammadi, revealing a gap in the understanding of the people in Penrith who make crude comments about Muslims and terrorism.
Marcus Cornish seemed to be put out by seeing a Christian supporter of the centre, accusing him of being “naive” to the evils of Islam, to which Fr. Smith replied by citing his 25 year association with people of many faiths in Dulwich Hill, as well as going to Islamic countries and seeing the problems of Islamic extremism first hand.
The next speaker, professional planning expert, Ian Rufus, pretty much silenced the councillors because he reiterated the fact that council had put the DA through its paces and it all checked out. This didn’t stop one local resident saying “bullshit”, then “do your homework”. Instant planning expertise with that one.
The last speaker was, as last time, Abbas Alvi, the main spokesperson for the association. He countered many of the arguments from the opponents, even the ones that claimed that Muslims = Crime.
But for all the talk of Alvi wanting to reach out to the community, as last time, this didn’t stop someone calling this question out from the crowd, to make public applause and acclaim:
To which Mayor Fowler, in one of his highlights, responded with this:
Despite the moronic and irrelevant nature of the question, that didn’t stop Cornish from being inspired by the comment and he asked the same question. Completely irrelevant to a DA. Alvi shouldn’t have had to answer, but he started in this way:
Alvi then showed a desire to educate the baying crowd as to what Sharia Law actually was – he even asked “do you want to know what it means?” to which the mob answer was – “No”, then “give a yes or no answer”.
Fowler, however, was clearly sick of the direction in which this was headed and ruled that Cornish’s question was out of order and that Alvi didn’t need to answer it. This brought the loudest hollering from the crowd as well as an angry Cornish rising to his feet, hands on hips, staring at Fowler in the same pose as two weeks ago, Again, Fowler responded in kind, which had Cornish backing down again.
After this, there were questions from Cnr. Tormey to Alvi as to where the money was coming from for the centre, in order to demonstrate that the centre was being built for western Sydney residents, and not the “Muslims from Auburn and Lakemba”, which had been Cornish’s continuous claim. The answer predictably attracted some comments from the opponents about Muslims and dirty money.
After Alvi returned to his seat, then the rescission motion was put – not by Cornish, but by Liberal Independent Councillor Mark Davies – the husband of Mulgoa MP, Tanya Davies.
This was, for me, one of the more troubling parts of the night, because Davies purports to be of the sensible middle ground, yet here he was, supporting the mad views and positions of Marcus Cornish. He cited nebulous concerns such as bushfires, while stating that he knew the areas well :
And then this classic piece of veiled racism:
So, people shouldn’t be free to build a community centre as it may change the “character of the area”, but people can be free to be bigots, presumably.
In citing his support for “community concerns”, Davies was deliberately playing the populist card rather than staring down the racists and accepting the fact that the DA was compliant. Rather, he was suggesting that this fact be placed to one side and that the “community concerns” of a loud, rabid minority be allowed to stop mature, considered community progress. It was a pretty rank, craven act from someone who could see that there may be an electoral backlash to the Liberal Independent councillors who voted to support the centre.
Talking of rank, Councillor Kevin “Shitspert” Crameri also didn’t disappoint, citing (again) how his knowledge of sewerage was superior to anyone who either worked for council or went to university, and how his septic system is second to none. He also decided to branch out to the possibility of flooding. The main surprise was that he didn’t cite bushfires too.
After we had speakers for the rescission motion, there were none against it. That was because most of the councillors were well bored with this issue and wanted to move on. So the actual vote was very quick. It went as follows:
Supporting the Motion (ie. Opposing the Community Centre)
Liberal Independent: Cornish, Mark Davies
Independents: Crameri, Girotto
Opposing the Motion (ie. Supporting the Community Centre)
Liberal Independents: Goldfinch (a change in vote from last time), Hitchen, Fowler, Bratusa
Labor: Car, McKeon, G Davies, Thain
The evening’s proceedings have also been written up by the Penrith Press’ excellent Ian Paterson here. In the end, it needs to be noted that Mayor Ross Fowler was excellent in guiding the meeting away from the kind of rabid crowd hollering being whipped up by Marcus Cornish and the speakers – based on the evidence of the evening, that kind of mature discussion might not have happened if Mark Davies was Mayor, as he was in 2012-13. It was also good to see Cnr. Ben Goldfinch change his mind from the last meeting and vote to support the centre.
So, again, common sense, acceptance and maturity ruled the night and the community centre can finally have no barriers to its construction. This would have enraged the Australia First fascists who had gathered outside by the time we emerged. However, this pleased the type of people that the City of Penrith should be thinking about with such decisions – that is, the community and the children within that community who will be enjoying this centre into the future. And it is a photo of said children taken by Cnr. Tormey that will end this report of what was a win for the good people of Penrith and a poke in the eye for ignorant mob rule, who seem to think some kind of Sharia Bushfire Flood is coming to make all white folks wear burqas and kill their children. Er, no.