Support for Catholic, but not Islamic school in Australian town

September 9th, 2008 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Sep 9 (IANS) A proposed Catholic school near here has been supported by the residents’ group, who had earlier this year rejected a plan to build an Islamic school on Sydney’s south-western fringes, raising uncomfortable questions of double standards and racism in this historic Australian town.But the Camden/MacArthur Residents’ Group rejects any suggestion of racism.

“What we have in Camden is we have Catholics, we have Anglicans and we have non-religious people. We do not have Muslims living here and if you put a Muslim school in Camden all the Muslims have to be transported from outside of our area,” a spokesman for the group, Andrew Wannet, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

“You can’t have a small country town with a high community ethic having a large institution where there are no people of that particular religion living within 20 or 30 kilometres of that area,” Wannet said.

Camden is a historic town, located less than an hour’s drive from the Sydney Central Business District, and is the birthplace of the Australian wool, wheat and wine industries. It has a semi-rural feel with sandstone buildings and jacaranda trees. According to census figures, it has about 150 Muslim families.

The Catholic school is proposed on an existing school site with all the infrastructure available.

Camden councillor David Funnell told the ABC: “The school that we’re talking about, the Catholic school, is already on a site that has a 40 kilometre zone. It’s an existing school, all the infrastructure is there ready to go.”

In May, a development application for a 1,200-student Islamic school was rejected by Camden Council on planning, which includes increased traffic and lack of public transport, and environmental grounds.

However the developers of the Australian $19 million ($15 million) Islamic school, the Quranic Society, says the decision was racially motivated and it has appealed to the Land and Environment Court against Camden Council’s rejection.

“We have complied with the law, we have done everything right, we hired master planners. There was no reason for it to be rejected. Even the council could not say what was wrong with the plan,” Quranic Society board member Fouad Chami had told The Australian newspaper.

The Quranic Society has said the school for primary and secondary students on a 15-acre block would cater to both Muslim and non-Muslim children and would follow the New South Wales State curriculum.

Allaying accusations of racism, Camden mayor Chris Patterson said religion had nothing to do with the Council’s decision. The proposal for the Catholic school will be treated “exactly on the same grounds” as the Islamic school, “taking into account traffic, amenity, noise”.

Five years ago, the Baulkham Hills Shire Council in Sydney’s north had rejected a businessman’s plans for building a Muslim prayer hall on the grounds that it did not fit with community characteristics. The decision was overturned by the Land and Environment Court.

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