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Oz Muslims feel targeted by new planning

November 14, 2010 - Sydney

Muslims in Australia have claimed that they are being targeted by new planning laws, preventing religious groups from taking over empty churches abandoned by other faiths in south-western Sydney.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the controversial regulations have been proposed by Canterbury Council, which includes the Islamic community strongholds of Belmore, Campsie, Canterbury and Lakemba.

The move is being backed by the Labor mayor Robert Furolo, who is also the state MP for the seat of Lakemba, and residents opposed to a mosque on the site of an ex-Roselands church.

The new planning controls would require all religious bodies to stick to strict planning guidelines in residential areas.

Planning laws in most NSW local government areas do not require religious organisations to make a new application to council if they buy a site zoned as a place of worship for use by another faith. However, Canterbury's planning order would require a new approval for each purchase and restrict service times. Muslims pray five times a day, the paper said.

The regulations follow a long-running controversy over the redevelopment of a former Chinese church as a mosque in Ludgate St, Roselands, it added.

Many in the Muslim community believe the council is playing the race card in the lead-up to the state election.

"Robert Furolo wants to stir up the anti-Muslim thing. He wants people outside screaming and shouting and getting emotional about this," Ahmad Kamaledine, director of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said.

But he said the planning control would streamline processes. "The most controversial planning decisions are those surrounding places of worship. They create more controversy than brothels." He said he was not anti-Muslim.

The mosque, which initially involved former Bulldogs star Hazem El Masri and boxer Anthony Mundine, has reportedly been approved for three days a week but wants to operate from 4.30am-11pm daily.


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