A few weeks back, The UPF, in a seemingly desperate crossroads, decided to chuck their support behind the ‘Rights for Bendigo Residents’ group, and vowed to rally on August 29 outside of Bendigo Town Hall, in opposition to the now approved Bendigo Mosque.
Quite a bit, as expected, had transpired since then. As anyone who has watched the events of these groups unfold previously would expect, their pages have been flooded with baseless claims, cries of ‘corruption’, odd and at times vile videos, and pathetic attacks on any institutions and organisation that doesn’t speak with them.
Late last week, Bendigo’s political, business, religious and community leaders sent a strong message that the city embraces people of all faiths and cultures. Over 40 of these influential people made a statement about the inclusiveness and tolerance of Bendigo. Many of Bendigo’s residents echoed this statement and its sentiments too. Again, as expected, this was met with criticism and nasty rhetoric from the UPF and their far-right comradery, including poorly editing a photo of the Mayor and councillors holding up a sign with the hashtag #BendigoWelcomesEveryone. The UPF changed this to ‘BendigoWelcomesUPF’.
Truthfully, the latter is actually quite incorrect. Despite the fact that there has been a considerable portion of Bendigonians against the mosque proposal, there is still a greater number of Bendigonians who either do not care, or would like the mosque to be built. All of this is harmonised under the inclusive hashtag mentioned above. This is clearly a response to the perceived ‘threat’ of the UPF. I can totally understand how it is warranted. It should also be noted that we have been made privy to (although unconfirmed) information that the UPF and their ‘comrades’ have been less than cooperative with Bendigo police and their planned rally.
As most of you would now know, there are two events taking place that you could consider ‘opposition’ to the UPF, on August 29 in Bendigo. The first, which should not be called a rally, is taking place at Rosalind Park. The event is a family friendly BBQ, which has been set up to promote inclusion and respect of all people in Bendigo. This is the event we have promoted at the top of our facebook page.
The second event, which has raised some brows, is the planned counter-rally organised by Campaign against Racism and Fascism, and No Room for Racism. I have heard both arguments to the necessity, and to the unwelcomeness of this rally. I do not want to subscribe to the dichotomy that is being put forward about the legitimacy or need of either. I don’t want to get into the details of who did what to whom at previous rallies. I don’t want to discuss it, quite frankly, because at the end of the day, we all do have a common goal. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out.
What is sad is that the UPF saw a highly emotive issue happening in a rural city, and decided that it would be a great issue to piggy-back on. In a typical fashion of all of these events that have transpired around the failures of the groups who litigate against mosque proposals, the following is now being asked for cash. It should be noted that the legal representative for the anti-mosque campaigners is Robert Balzola, a migration agent and part-time anti-Islamic legal representative based in Sydney. The man is actually a staunch Christian, who has previously opposed the Canberra mosque (and lost), and represented Bernard Gaynor in his ‘discrimination’ unfair dismissal case against the ADF, after he was terminated for being – you guessed it – discriminatory. Unsurprisingly, much like the aforementioned cases, Balzola also lost the recent case in VCAT against the proposal of the Bendigo mosque. The planning permit has been approved.
The Rights for Bendigo Residents (RFBR) page is now asking people to continue to ‘fund the fight’ without actually telling people what it’s for. Although we have heard word they wish to contest VCAT’s finding in the Supreme Court (and much like previous litigation attempts by Balzola when he escalates his losses into higher courts, it will likely be thrown out as vexatious), no confirmation of that has yet taken place, however, they are happy to continue to ask their following for money, and let’s be serious for a second, why wouldn’t they? Shermon and co successfully raised something around the tune of $1,600 to pay the fines for the young men who threw glass at medics and destroyed private property on July 18, to get them out of their financial responsibility. The only issue was, weeks later, discussions were revealed that put the legitimacy of the need to raise that money, and where it actually ended up, into question. This compounded with the fact that UPF make about 50% profit on the sales of their merchandise should lead any person with some sort of fiscal responsibility to tread with caution with further fundraising attempts, yet, none seem to.
I suppose what further baffles me is the fact that nobody on their page is actually willing to question the veracity of their material. Any Bendigonian, particularly one somewhat invested in the ongoing fight about this proposed mosque, would’ve almost immediately noticed that:
A. The video was filmed on the wrong site, and
B. The assertion that Loddon Mallee Housing (Haven) were going to cram “80,000 refugees” into a 23 unit homeless development was a load of hooey, as was the assertion that a non-profit NGO was somehow going to financially benefit from the development (which was almost 5km away from the mosque site, not across the road as Blair asserted).
This has now led to Loddon Mallee Housing Services taking a stand against the UPF and their baseless lies, including a rightly placed threat of legal action.
A few months ago, during the peak of the issues and battles that RFBR had opened up themselves, there were statements made by some of their leadership that they did not wish for external persons (non-Bendigonians) to participate in their legal battles. Wind forward to today, and they are openly promoting a group that includes leadership from West Heidelberg, Cooma, Frankston, Doreen, and other townships that are not even remotely close to Bendigo. It is also ridiculous that the UPF have chosen to jump onto this ‘issue’ now, when it is pretty much over and done, when they could’ve ‘rallied’ when the rhetoric about Monika Evers’ supposed “fraud” was revealed, months before VCAT actually approved the development. You might be asking why all of this is happening now? Well, another (although, again, unconfirmed) person has told us that Blair and the remainder of the UPF ‘crew’ have been in discussion with RFBR, including meeting with them as recently as yesterday to discuss the ‘rally’. RFBR is a sinking ship, and can you blame them for trying to stay afloat by jumping onto UPF? Seemingly, the only effect this is having is transferring the likes and support base of RFBR over to UPF, which would explain the sudden rise in their page numbers.
Although the far-right almost has their own de facto trademark of splitting, what is worrying is the increasing amount of other far-right groups who usually lurk in the underground that are now rearing their heads, and promoting this rhetoric. Although they will eventually split again, this is still a dangerous notion, as the more ‘extreme’ factions of the far end of the political spectrum tend to garner nastier, more violent tactics, it also opens up a bag of discrimination that doesn’t just encompass ‘Arabs’ and ‘Muslims’. To pretend the UPF don’t know about this is naïve. Just take a look at the video recently released by Blair, carrying the “anti-racism is anti-white’ messages.
Sadly, I expect this will cast ugly scenes into Bendigo on Saturday, but remain objective when pointing the finger, because the last thing the ‘left’ (as we are so commonly called) needs is the fractures that plague the far right.