Refugee zone back on council agenda

RELATED COVERAGE:  Extremism, Islam one and the same to Cr Sindt 

A Symbolic commitment by Latrobe City Council to welcome refugees to the region will be challenged on Monday night.

Councillor Christine Sindt will move a motion attempting to overturn council’s decision earlier this month to declare the Valley a ‘refugee welcome zone’.

Her rescission motion was initially excluded from Monday’s agenda, but legal advice obtained by Latrobe City chief executive Gary van Driel has led to its inclusion.

“I’m really happy, because it is on the agenda and there are opportunities to think through things a bit more carefully,” Cr Sindt said.

The central ward councillor drew criticism from fellow councillors and community groups following the 2 March council meeting when she opposed declaring the Valley a refugee welcome zone.

During the meeting she attempted to steer discussion on the matter to her concerns about Shariah Law, later saying it and Islamic teachings “support and promote activities inconsistent with western democratic values”.

Cr Sindt said since her public comments she had been approached and emailed by members of the public who supported her views.

“I feel I’m doing the right thing,” Cr Sindt told The Express this week.

Cr Sindt, whose parents migrated from west Germany in the 1950s, said she believed she was “in tune with the community”.

The Latrobe Valley Asylum Seeker Support Group requested council make the refugee declaration, which is seen as a symbolic commitment with no formal, legal or financial obligations attached to it.

There are 110 other refugee welcome zones across Australia.

LVASSG convenor David Langmore said it would be disappointing if the rescission motion was seconded and passed, but he was hopeful the council would maintain its decision.

Gippsland Multicultural Services director Lisa Sinha said it was the group’s understanding the remaining eight councillors supported “very strongly the diverse community and its positive contribution”.

“We’re going to continue to work closely with council and the media to promote and stand by that diversity and make sure everyone’s welcome,” she said.

Cr Sindt’s rescission motion would need to be seconded by a fellow councillor in order to be debated. If there is no seconder, the motion will lapse.

The motion was initially excluded because at the time of its lodging it was deemed the matter had already been ‘acted upon’, as statements had been sent to the media about council’s decision to declare the region a refugee welcome zone.

Cr Sindt said she disputed this with the chief executive.

Mr van Driel said “as a matter of good governance” he requested legal advice to confirm the correct course of action.

“The legal advice received indicated that the rescission could still be accepted and so it has been included in the upcoming council meeting agenda,” Mr van Driel said.

“Latrobe City Council is aware that there are some community members who do not support Cr Sindt’s personal views in relation to Shariah Law and Islam.

“Under the Local Government Act 1989, councillors are permitted to publicly express their individual views and also do this through casting their vote on specific matters.”

He said the view of an individual councillor did not necessarily represent the view of council and the exception was the mayor who was an official spokesperson.

The would-be rescission motion originally posted by Cr Sindt on her Facebook page on 3 March included references to her concerns about Islam and Shariah Law.

These references are not included in the motion in Monday night’s agenda.