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Council pulls the plug on Penrith CBD Islamic school plan

Council pulls the plug on Penrith CBD Islamic school plan

Isabell Petrinic, Penrith Press
June 3, 2017 12:35

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PENRITH Council has refused an application to fit out the empty Department Of Education and Training Penrith District Office on Henry St as an Islamic school for 300 students in kindergarten to year 12.

In a press release issued by the council today, its spokesman said: “An application for the fitout and use of existing buildings for an independent Primary and Secondary School at 57 Henry Street, Penrith was determined and refused under delegated authority on June 1, 2017.”

Penrith Mayor John Thain said the application failed to address a number of legislative requirements.

“Council will continue to ensure that potential developments meet statutory requirements and address any future undesirable impacts they would have on our city,” Cr Thain said.

“This application was found to be non-compliant in a number of areas and has been refused.”

This latest twist comes as Ali Arabaci, the principal of the Islamic body facing backlash over its school plan for Penrith CBD, voiced hope that any hostile feelings towards the project would disappear in the months it would take them to amend their plans.
Students being taught at Irfan College in Cecil Park. Picture: Phillip Rogers
Penrith Council had initially asked the applicant for the new $1 million independent school, Irfan College, to withdraw its application on planning grounds.

But Mr Arabaci had maintained any problems could be solved, adding it was important not to have “a reactionary response” to those who opposed the school for religious reasons.

“It’s the reason we didn’t take part in (Sunday’s) rally,” Mr Arabaci said with reference to Party for Freedom’s public meeting, organised to protest the “Islamic infiltration” of Penrith.
Protesters in Penrith on Sunday. Picture: Peter Kelly
On a visit to Irfan, a kindergarten to year 8 coeducational Islamic school in Cecil Park, Mr Arabaci spoke openly about his school’s curriculum, stressing “everyone is welcome”.

“We’re an accredited school that’s implementing the Australian curriculum similar to other faith-based schools … (comprising) 80 per cent learning, 20 per cent religion,” he said.

“At a Catholic school they have (the study of) scripture. We have one class of Islamic studies, two periods of Koran … learning how to read it, ­because it’s in classical Arabic, and memorising the Koran.”

Mr Arabaci said three teachers at Irfan were of non-Muslim background.

“I’m very happy with that decision,” he said.
Irfan College principal Ali Arabaci with students at his school in Cecil Park. Picture: Phillip Rogers
In reference to council’s decision, Mayor Thain said today that “as the Western Sydney region grows we expect to see much more development in Penrith”.

“This will be required to create jobs and transport infrastructure, and address educational and health requirements of our residents and future generations,” Cr Thain said.

“We will be vigilant in ensuring that any development complies with legislative requirements.

“There is a very exciting future ahead for Penrith and we need to get the foundations firmly in place from the beginning.”

Mr Arabaci was unable to be contacted for comment.

A bitter slanging match erupted between ideological rivals at a weekend rally to protest the opening of the Islamic school in Penrith CBD.

The Sunday rally, led by the Party for Freedom, drew supporters, some wearing Pauline Hanson shirts, along with a heavy police presence.

Party founder Nick Folkes denied wanting to incite race violence, but to protect Penrith from a “barbaric and unjust ideology that is against the Australian way of life”.

A minor scuffle erupted when protesters broke a police line to engage with a vocal anti-fascism group chanting “Nazi scum off our streets”.

It is understood a protester was also threatened by another protester wielding a bat in a carpark after the protest.
One group was heard chanting “Black, Muslim, Asian, white. Workers of the world unite” at Sunday’s rally.

A second group, led by Party for Freedom, called on the anti-fascism group to ”Go back to your campus”.
During the rally visiting South Australian lawyer John Bolton called for random searches of Islamic schools to make sure they’re not teaching sharia law.

He said children learnt how to be terrorists in Islamic schools and mosques.

“That’s why these places are a (national) risk,” Mr Bolton said, adding he would not be opposed to an Islamic school that was proved to be teaching a “modernist curriculum”.

At #Penrith anti-Islamic school rally with SA activist John Bolton

— Isabell Petrinic (@IsabellPetrinic) May 28, 2017
Asked why he had come out in support of Party for Freedom, Ken Oliver of Penrith said: “I don’t think it’s a racist thing — I think we need to keep Penrith as Penrith.”
Most protesters were from out of area.
There was a strong police presence at Sunday’s protest rally. Picture: Peter Kelly
“Penrith Council should listen,” Mr Folkes maintained on Sunday.

“It’s not just on environmental or traffic concerns (that we oppose this school) … it’s also the social and cultural impact of what Islam brings to an area.

“You’ll see more mosques, you’ll see more burkas, you’ll see more hijabs.”

He stressed this was not “against children”.
Islam is a growing religious group in Penrith. Picture: iStock

■ The largest religion in Penrith City in 2011 was Western (Roman) Catholic with 34.9 per cent of the population; 1.9 per cent nominated Islam as their religion.

■ The largest changes in religious affiliation from 2006 to 2011 were for: Roman Catholic (2763 more people); Christian (+852); Uniting Church (-640); and Islam (+612).