Bass Hill residents denied justice as Australia’s largest Islamic school is approved by political decision

Just recently (15 May 2009) the Land and Environment Court (LEC) gave permission to the Al Amanah College group to build what the Sydney Morning Herald reported as “Australia’s largest Islamic school” (1); however, it was never touted as that before the approval. Despite having been rejected by the Bankstown Council on two occasions, and despite widespread opposition from Bass Hill residents, the LEC rejected all the council’s town planning arguments and went as far as suggesting that the objections were based on race – thus clearly revealing this development approval to be a political decision.

The legal action before the LEC was initiated by Bankstown Council after receiving legal advice that the previous commissioner (Senior Commissioner Roseth ) had erred in law by not addressing relevant provisions of the the Local Environment Plan (LEP) or “the public interest”. Senior Commissioner Roseth made comments to the effect that if the school was a Christian school, then it would not have received so many objections. In effect, Roseth accused the council and Bass Hill residents of racism by making that statement.

The school has been dogged by controversy from the very start. First, the land was acquired by deception from the NSW Department of Education in late 2006. This came about partly because an incompetent and corrupt Labor state government had decided to sell its assets to raise revenue. A corporate body by the name of “Garden View Apartments” bought the land for $4.45 million with the intention of building residential units (2). After securing the land, it was then revealed that “Garden View Apartments” was owned by the Al Amanah College group who then sought to use the land for the building of an Islamic school. The NSW state Labor government declined to reverse the sale.

After it became known that the property was going to become a 1,200 place Islamic school, the Bass Hill Residents Action Group started a series of public meetings throughout 2007 to inform residents about the proposal and to pressure the local state MP and councillors into action. One such meeting had an attendance of over 1,000 people and raised $4,000 in donations to pay for various reports and legal costs incurred by the Residents Action Group. Also attending the meeting were a small group of Muslims, one of whom was seen filming both inside and outside the meeting, where he filmed every person who left the hall, men, women and children – a clear act of intimidation occurring within government property, one that the police on the scene declined to do anything about.

The recent final judgment against the Bankstown Council and Bass Hill residents represents the failure of the most elemental level of democracy in this country. People should be entitled to have control over what comes into their local communities. This is why the Australian Protectionist Party would strengthen the “public interest” clause of the town planning laws, to allow for the inclusion of a social or cultural impact statement (in the same way that there is currently provision for an environmental impact statement) in order to give residents more control over their own communities and strengthen local democracy.

1. Court allows Islamic school, Sydney Morning Herald, 15 May 2009
2. Al Amanah Islamic College Development Application: Bass Hill High School Sports Fields, Parliament of NSW, Hansard, Legislative Council, 23 October 2008

Leave a Reply