News of a $3 million mosque recently green-lighted in Bendigo, provoking some locals and a few blow-ins to ark up deluxe, takes me back almost two years to a tale of an inept bunch of secretive red-necks who created a similar but less polished ruckus in the Nation’s capital.
In July 2012 a “dog whistle” went out to Canberra’s northern suburbs.
A leaflet, calling for “Honesty and transparency”, appeared in the letterboxes of homes in the expanding suburbs around Gungahlin, warning of the impact a mosque would have on the neighbourhood. But paradoxically the “concerned” had to “apply” for entry to a “private closed-door meeting” (July 1) called to gauge support for a cause.
The only clue as to the identity of the “whistler” was the CCC (Concerned Citizens of Canberra) email address to which you needed to supply your details but from which you’d only get a venue, date and time if you’d “been selected”. A Canberra Times reporter who got the nod ended up on the pavement outside before any rubber hit the road inside.
According to the CCC , or “the Klan” as it was quickly dubbed by some local media, a development application submitted to the ACT Government for a Mosque in Gungahlin, if approved, would “dominate the view-scape, impact on society, create traffic noise and be too bulky in scale and too high”.
I have no form in creating community anxiety but I would suggest if you are going to “dog whistle” fear throughout the village over a mosque popping up, you are going to need to be, dare I say, a tad more extreme in your approach than the so called Concerned Citizens of Canberra.
Instead of raising fear to a high level, as did the East Bendigo anti-Mosque protesters by tossing in the threat of a terrorist attack if the project went ahead, the CCC amateurishly suggested among the “frightening” consequences of such, which included traffic congestion, plumbing (preparing corpses for funerals) and a minuet blighting the landscape, that…“women wearing burqas would frighten the local kiddies”.
And too stupid to play the “Mosque would create a ‘Muslim enclave’ forcing house prices down” card.
While the “Concerned Citizens of Bendigo” are seemingly prepared to show their faces, and placards, their cowardly cousins in Canberra choose to remain largely anonymous. Two years on, the only person speaking (mostly off-the-record) for the CCC is the Christian Pastor Irwin Ross, to date the only CCC organiser flushed out (by a Canberra Times reporter).
Those who were prepared to speak to media say Irwin Ross is known in the Christian community for his stridently pro-Israel views.
After scores of phone calls and some (but not a lot of) stalking, out of the blue, the Rev Irwin Ross rang me and agreed to a phone interview on my Canberra talk-back radio program. The offer came with a biblical flavour too…”there is a time for silence and there is a time for talking” (Ecclesiastes 3).
Sadly poor old Irwin was on the back foot from very early in our 10-minute chat. He’d sent me the nastier “draft” version of his final, slightly toned down press release by mistake. I tried to be fair but a free kick of this juicy nature does not fall into the lap of your average practitioner of Angry Old Man radio everyday.
It was a train-wreck.
Me: You are spokesperson for the CCC. Are you a Christian Pastor?
Irwin: Well, um, like all of us we wear many hats, but…
Me: It’s not one that I wear. I’m a radio announcer. If you are a Christian Pastor it’s a job isn’t it?
Irwin: Well, not necessarily. In Christianity for…
Me: Are you a Christian Pastor?
Irwin: Ah a Pastor Yes, not full time, No…
Me: “Must be play host whilst your organisation plays parasite ripping off the hard-working people.”
Irwin: Can you re-phrase that?
Me: This is your press release…“Must be play host whilst your organisation plays parasite…”
Irwin: In the press release I’ve got here I haven’t got that…so which one do you have?
Me: You are kidding me!? So, someone got hold of this here in this building and added a line?
Irwin: OK, OK I will have sent to you the one I’ve got here…because there’s been one or two changes.
Me: I’m afraid you’ve lost a bulk of credibility, Digger
Irwin: Can you email that through and I’ll have a look at that?
Me: You emailed it to me.
Irwin: Well, what should have been emailed to you was not that…that’s for sure.
The CCC’s maiden media outing did absolutely nothing to quell the wider public perception of the group. Some of the more choice quotes from the local blog RiotAct.
“The Klan comes to Canberra. Gungahlin mosque stirs up the racist nuts”
“The Klan told to front up real money or go to hell”
“The Klan suffers identity problems”
“Ringleader of anti-Muslim protests outs himself – as a twit”.
With an ACT Supreme Court challenge to the mosque development brought by the CCC approaching an outcome, I caught up with Rev Irwin Ross again last week. He continues to be shifty, speaking cryptically on the identity of those who sit in the shadows of the CCC executive. He claims the group’s number is now greater and growing, but I suspect it remains the same “gang of 4-6” that first blew the dog whistle by conducting that “honest and transparent private closed door meeting” of July 2012, which attracted just 20 mostly “concerned” Canberra citizens.
What is of greater concern is the potential merging or forming of like-minded mobs from all around Australia.
That perfect storm may already be gaining momentum. A relationship now exists between the CCC and the more infamous and battle-hardened anti-mosque campaigner, Pastor Daniel Nalliah from the Melbourne-based “Catch the Fire Ministries”.
Sri Lankan-born Nalliah garnered national headlines after being dragged before a court in Victoria to answer charges of “Inciting Hatred” under its Racial and Religious Tolerance act. The landmark case ended with Pastor Daniel and a colleague successfully appealing the original lawsuit on December 14 2006.
Pastor Nalliah was also up to his elbows in the fight to stop a mosque in the same Melbourne suburb as his church.
In the middle of last year with a Federal election looming both Pastor Daniel and Pastor Irwin Ross denied knowledge of each other but had become chummy well before 7 September. The good Pastor and his wife Jill Ross stood unsuccessfully as ACT Senate and House of Reps candidates respectively for Nalliah’s fledgling political movement Rise Up Australia Party.
I fear Reverend Irwin Ross gained nothing from the invaluable on-air media mentoring/arse ripping session I gave him last July, and is “hell-bent” on fighting the good fight.
The group of “Concerned Citizens of Canberra” continues to put its money where its mouth is (serious legal fees are mounting) but remains reluctant to reveal its complete run on side.
It will be fascinating to see just who “fronts” from behind the CCC mask at court on Friday July 4th, when Master of the ACT Supreme Court, David Mossop, hands down his judgement.
The Radio interview between Mike Welsh and Rev Irwin Ross …. https://soundcloud.com/mikewelsh54/irwin-ross-full-0-1