Padraic Murphy, Herald Sun (Melbourne), September 17, 2010
A PLAN to force families to cover up to avoid offending Muslims at a public event has triggered furious debate.
An overwhelming 94 per cent of heraldsun.com.au readers disagree with the legal ruling approving the contentious ban during next year’s Ramadan.
So far the Premier John Brumby has refused to weigh into the debate about the event, saying he will wait to see the VCAT ruling before making any comment.
VCAT has approved a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for a community event to be held at the Dandenong Oasis, a municipal pool.
“Participants aged 10 and over must ensure their bodies are covered from waist to knee and the entire torso extending to the upper arms,” a request by Dandenong City Council and the YMCA states in an exemption application to the Equal Opportunities Act.
This issue has also sparked a huge community debate, with well over 500 people commenting on heraldsun.com.au this morning.
Many readers feel the administrative ruling has gone too far to appease minority interests, and even senior Islamic figures have raised concerns about the precedent.
The request has been approved by VCAT and applies to a family event to be held at the pool next August.
“The applicant intends this to be an event where people of all races and religions and ages may attend, use the Centre’s facilities and socialise together,” VCAT notes.
“The holy month of Ramadan has a particular focus on families and the applicant wishes to encourage families to attend and socialise together with others.
“The minimum dress requirements are set having regard to the sensitivities of Muslims who wish to participate in the event.”
The ban on skimpy clothes will apply between 6.15 and 8.15pm on August 21 next year, a time when the pool is closed to the public and normally used by a Muslim women’s swimming group.
The ban was yesterday compared by the Human Rights Commissioner Helen Szoke to a ban on thongs in a pub.
“Matters such as this are not easy to resolve and require a balance to be achieved between competing rights and obligations,” she said.
“Dress codes are not uncommon: eg singlets, jeans, thongs etc in pubs/hotels.”
Sherene Hassan, vice-president of the Islamic Society of Victoria, said she didn’t support the dress restrictions.
“My preference would be that no dress code is stipulated,” Ms Hassan said.
But Liberty Victoria said the ban was reasonable because the event was to be held out of hours.
A spokeswoman for the City of Greater Dandenong said the ban would help Muslims feel part of the community.