AN ACTION group set up to fight a proposed Islamic school in Penrith will hold a public protest next weekend.
Speakers will include controversial South Australian lawyer John Bolton, who has previously called for a ban on “Islamic face-masks” and “random searches of Islamic schools to make sure they’re not teaching sharia”.
Party for Freedom founder Nick Folkes said the group was not looking to incite racial violence.
But it was calling on the “treasonous” Penrith Council, its councillors and mayor John Thain — whose photograph is used on their website in a photoshopped image with a headscarf — to vote against a development application which could see the empty Department Of Education and Training Penrith District Office on Henry St fitted out as an Islamic school for students in kindergarten to Year 12.
Cr Thain was having none of it.
“It’s an infantile attempt to try and bully someone into a position but the reality is there is a process we have to go through,” Cr Thain said of any suggestion he could squash, or approve, the proposal.
Mr Folkes said he opposed the building of any Islamic schools or mosques in Australia, not just in Penrith.
“They want an Islamic Australia,” Mr Folkes of Rozelle said, adding “I’m not so opposed to Christian schools, as I see Christianity as part of Australia’s heritage”.
Cr Thain said: “I don’t care what religion it is, or whether it’s public or private schooling.
“At the end of the day, I’ll deal with this under the planning laws. In the meantime, I would encourage people to put their submissions in.
“These groups are barking up the wrong tree, really. They should be talking to the Federal Government about changing the Constitution.”
Irfan College principal Ali Arabaci told the Penrith Press in March that the school had two highly-reputable sister schools in Australia.
“We are Australians and we are Muslims, and I think having a school of this profile in Penrith will show it is a tolerant area,’’ he said.
The applicant, Irfan College in Cecil Park, currently has about 220 K-8 students on its books, a quarter of which commute from the Penrith Mt Druitt area for their schooling.
IRFAN COLLEGE DEVELOPMENT INFO SESSION CALL
A development application for the new $1.1 million Irfan College was submitted to Penrith Council on March 1, following a pre-DA application in early 2016.
The college seeks to use the existing site and four buildings for its new school.
Pre-empting a public backlash, Penrith councillor Marcus Cornish called for a community information session to be held and for the consultation period for the DA to be extended to May 31. “It is already sparking a lot (of debate) because of where the proposed school is to be,” Cr Cornish said.
The council is yet to set a date for this session.
‘‘Stop the Islamic school in Penrith’’ Facebook page founder Anne Brady, of St Clair, said: “The site was closed as a functioning school in the ’90s, so the site is definitely not suitable … (and) on the Islamic side of things, their agenda is segregation.”
The page has 417 members and includes a link to a change.org petition signed by 5338 people who oppose the opening of a religious school on the old Penrith Public School infants site, which dates back to the 1870s.
“There is too much radicalisation going on in public schools, let alone Islamic schools,” Ms Brady said. “I just don’t know how this will help Penrith in the slightest.”
Plans for a new Islamic prayer hall at Kemps Creek ignited similar debate in Penrith in 2014, including angry exchanges outside the council chambers between Nick Folkes’ group and another group against anti-racism sentiment
Mr Folkes said if an Islamic school was allowed to open in Penrith, this would lead to more Muslims moving into the area and subsequent “friction” and “increased crimes”.
A self described National Patriot and ex-Liberal voter, Mr Folkes denies he was prejudiced but said there was nothing wrong with racism or “protecting your own”.
Historically, the knife-edge marginal electorate of Lindsay has been a bellwether seat since its creation in 1984, and many argue the winner in the last Federal election was decided on the preferences of far-right independents including Australia First’s Jim Saleam and Penrith councillor Marcus Cornish who both claimed a sinking trust in the Liberal Party had led them to throw their hats in the political ring.
“We need representation in Parliament,” maintained Mr Folkes. “We do have people like Pauline Hanson, which is fantastic, but I think we need more.”
The Party for Freedom’s protest meeting will take place on Sunday, May 28, 1pm-3pm, at the Lawson/North St roundabout in Penrith.
“We are aware of the proposed public gathering,” Penrith Detective Acting Inspector Peter Murphy said.
“The Organiser has submitted the relevant notice to police and this is currently being assessed. Other than that I am unable to comment on any other issues at this stage.”
The One Nation Electoral Support Group for Western Sydney will meet at The Henry Sports Club on Sunday, May 21, 3pm, to discuss local issues including Irfan College’s Islamic school proposal for Penrith.