COMMUNITY: James Hansen led the debate to amend the planning assessment rules to make all places of worship impact assessable.
COMMUNITY: James Hansen led the debate to amend the planning assessment rules to make all places of worship impact assessable. Alistair Brightman

Anti-mosque petition divides council amid fierce debate

A "DIVISIVE" debate about stopping mosques and changing planning rules for other places of worship has been narrowly defeated by councillors.

At the start of the meeting in Hervey Bay yesterday, councillor James Hansen presented a petition on behalf of Fraser Coast Safe Communities to amend planning laws to make places of worship impact assessable.

Later, in general business, Cr Hansen moved a motion for a report to be provided to "see if it's possible" to amend the council's planning scheme to make any application for a place of worship impact assessable.

That change to impact assessable would mean any application for a place of worship would have to be voted on by councillors and advertised to the community. The petition tabled by Cr Hansen gained more than 1050 signatures.

While it cited amending the planning laws for "all religions", deputy mayor George Seymour told the council chamber the petition was titled "stop the mosque".

Cr Seymour promoted religious freedom and said he would vote against any petition that restricted any religion from gathering - whether it be a synagogue or Catholic church.

"I find it extremely disappointing this has been brought into our community," he said.

"I want to say how sad I am that this divisive issue has been brought here today.

"It's very clear this is about mosques."

The petition was moved by James Hansen, who with the support of councillors Rolf Light, Denis Chapman, Chris Loft, Daniel Sanderson, Anne Maddern and Paul Truscott, it was accepted.

Councillors who voted to accept the petition said they did so because it did not endorse the contents of the petition, but acknowledged the receipt of it.

Cr Hansen said the change in assessment for places of worship would give residents a chance to have a say on what goes in their community. "It's an exercise in a democracy," he said.

The council's chief executive officer Lisa Desmond will provide a response to the petition.

On any development, councillors are permitted to vote however they feel.

Fraser Coast Safe Communities member Mandy Chapman was in the council chamber for the debate and later spoke about the importance of the change to planning assessments.

"The community needs to have a say as to what's put next to them as a neighbour," she said.

"It's necessary because of the current climate in Australia and world wide that all religions on some level have some extreme element.

"I don't think the democratic process has been followed - I feel there is more emotion and less understanding."

Ms Chapman said "of course" there were concerns of a mosque being built in the region, and when asked if she would also oppose a Catholic church in the region said: "Yes I would".

Cr Seymour said councillors should take a stand against comments or calls that were divisive.

Hope for Humanity group president Amanda Edwards praised Cr Seymour's stance.

"While councillor Hansen and his supporters claim that this amendment would affect all places of worship applications, the mere fact that it has been instigated by this particular petition highlights the fact that this is really focused on the Islamic faith," she said.

"From the council down, our community leaders should be focusing more on unity and not giving a voice to hate speak."

Cr Light cited the unrest in Bendigo when a development application for a mosque was put forward.

"We've seen the impact recently in Victoria and how it's torn communities apart," he said.

After all of the council debate there will be no changes to the planning assessment due to Cr Hansen's second motion being defeated 6-5.

What do you think? Should places of worship be impact assessable? Join the conversation and tell us below.  

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