The newly formed Australian Muslim Party (AMP) will never support military action in a Muslim-majority country, founder Diaa Mohamed says. Australia’s first Islamic faith political party intends to field Senate candidates in all states and territories at next year’s federal election and also contest upper house seats at state level. Founder Diaa Mohamed defended the timing of the announcement just weeks after the Paris terrorist atrocities, insisting there had never been a more critical time for the Muslim community to have a political voice in Australia. As a devout Muslim, he said he would never condone the killing of innocents as seen on the streets of Paris and Beirut but said the Australian Muslim Party would also never support military action in a Muslim country in response to terrorism.

“I don’t think Islam is at war with the West but Islamic countries have been at war for many, many years,” he said. “Let’s look at how well military intervention has worked in the past. We invaded Afghanistan. That didn’t work out so well. We invaded Iraq and we’re in the mess we’re in there. “Would I support something that has never worked in the past? No. It’s just never worked. Not for the Soviets in Afghanistan, not for the United States in Iraq. There’s a solution and it’s not invading someone else’s land.” He said the killings in Paris were “inexcusable” but drew a direct link between past foreign invasions in the Middle East and the spread of radical Islam, most recently by the Islamic State. “From these guys’ perspective they have had foreign fighters in their lands, their sons and daughters being killed” he said.

Mr Mohamed, a 34 year-old businessman from western Sydney, founded a group called “MyPeace” aimed at improving relations between Muslims and mainstream Australia. He was also behind billboards erected in Sydney in 2011 that claimed “Jesus: a prophet of Islam”. An unmarried father of a 9 year-old son, he formerly worshipped at Lakemba Mosque but now attends the Parramatta Mosque. He said the establishment of the AMP was in part a reaction to the six anti-Islamic parties intending to stand for election, including the Australian Liberty Alliance, launched recently by controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Rise Up and Nick Folkes’ Party for Freedom. About 20 Party for Freedom supporters protested outside the Parramatta Mosque recently after the murder of NSW Police accountant Curtis Cheng.

Mr Mohamed said he had never met Mr Cheng’s 15 year-old killer Farhad Jabar Khalil Mohammad and had never heard any radical sentiment expressed at the mosque, which he described as a small “in and out” mosque used by professionals working in Parramatta. He has taken office space in Parramatta where he and 20 volunteers will seek to gain the 500 members needed to register a political party in time for the next federal election. He said an Australian Muslim Party website would go live shortly. The party has already reached out to political experts for advice on a preference strategy, crucial to the election chances of minor parties. Mr Mohamed said he had consulted both Imams and Christian bishops and priests on his intentions to form the party, saying non-Muslims were welcome as members.

But he said senior Islamic clerics had advised him to “tread cautiously” in seeking representation for Muslims in politics. Dr Jamal Rifi, a respected voice on moderate Islam, said he would encourage young Muslims to get involved with established parties like Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Greens but understood the compulsion to directly organise on behalf of Muslims. “We live in a democratic society and people are entitled to form anti-Muslim parties just as people are entitled to form the Muslim Party,” he said. Labor’s Ed Husic was the first Muslim MP elected to the federal parliament in 2010. Mr Mohamed said some Muslim commentators used regularly by the media showed too much “appeasement” of the mainstream community.

He described as “stupid” comments by Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie in support of banning sharia law, halal certification and the wearing of the burqa – although face coverings should not be allowed in police matters, banks and driver’s licence issues, he said. He said he was “living” sharia by not drinking, not eating pork and trying to pray five times a day but said fears about the imposition of any official sharia in a country with a Muslim population of 1.6 per cent was a “non-issue”. “People should be free to wear as little as they want but also free to wear as much as they want,” he said. The party supports Australia accepting 12,000 Syrian refugees as the “most humane thing to do” in response to the crisis in that country. 

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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Kings Cross will never again function as Sydney’s late-night entertainment precinct, property owners say, with residential developers snapping up promising land, while less desirable sites decline in value. In the wake of the gentrification of the suburb, licensing restrictions, and lock out laws, the Valuer General has in recent weeks offered to reduce the land value of at least eight commercial properties in the area by up to $1.25 million, in response to land tax objections lodged by owners. The  Land and Property office has agreed to reductions of between 5 and 20 per cent on the properties, which include the Kings Cross Hotel, Carlisle House and Iguana Bar. Separately, another property, the heritage-listed Minton House, was earlier in the year devalued by almost 35 per cent, from $10 million to $6.58 million.

Owners are cashing in on offers from residential developers. Andrew Lazarus, owner of the now closed Soho nightclub, confirmed he was exchanging contracts to sell the site to an apartment developer. “The Cross will never be an entertainment area again,” he told a parliamentary inquiry, unless governments deliberately intervene to stop its gentrification. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm​ is conducting his own inquiry into measures that limit personal choice “for the individual’s own good”. The inquiry is focused on Sydney’s 1.30am lockout in Kings Cross and the CBD, which business operators believe has contributed to the decline in Kings Cross patronage. Business operators believe the laws were the last straw for the beleaguered Golden Mile, which has struggled for years against gentrification.

Property valuer Phil Rennie lodged land tax objections on behalf of 12 property owners in May, due to a collapse in commercial rents. Of the eight that were agreed by the Valuer General (VG), the average reduction in land value was about 14 per cent. Mr Rennie said the owners would consider the VG’s offers within the next 60 days. Valuer General Simon Gilkes would not comment on the individual cases but said all objections were independently assessed. Commercial properties conducive to residential redevelopment, have been selling fast in the old red light district. Earlier this year, Chinese developer Greenland Group bought the Crest Hotel site, along with a pub in Parramatta, for $170 million. It has development approval for 139 apartments. The nearby Bourbon Hotel was also sold for mixed-use development.

Mr Rennie estimated many commercial rents in the Cross were down 30 to 50 per cent since 2008, owing to a number of factors. The financial crisis, small bars, smoking bans and licensing restrictions had all contributed, he said. The Baird government has said the lock-out laws will be subject to a review in February. Malcolm Gunning, president of the Real Estate Institute of NSW, sits on the Land Valuation Advisory Group, a committee of property industry groups and stakeholders that advises the Valuer General. “The committee has recommended that strip be closely examined as to what’s taking place,” he said. “Today, that strip is a basket-case. In that area, rents have dropped in some cases by more than half.”

Mr Gunning, whose own real estate agency is active in Kings Cross, said the area’s future would rely on higher floor space ratios for residential development. “You’ll have expensive apartments with residential frontage and the whole nature of the strip will change.” But Mr Rennie argued the recent land value reductions showed the Kings Cross apartment boom did not apply equally, because parts of the strip were still not desirable for residential development. Last month developers were urging the state government and the City of Sydney to increase height limits for residential towers in the area. Chief executive of Iris Capital, Sam Arnaout​, suggested the strip could become “like a New York Manhattan”. A City of Sydney spokesman said the council was not reviewing floor space ratios for Kings Cross.

Friday’s inquiry also heard that 30 businesses in the Cross had closed since the lockout was introduced in February last year, including a dozen nightclubs and bars. Alcohol-related violence had declined by 32 per cent, although Bureau of Crime Statistics director Don Weatherburn said it was “entirely possible” this was due to the reduced patronage in the Cross. Mr Leyonhjelm, a supporter of gun rights and opponent of mandatory bicycle helmets, was in favour of retaining the old red light district. “If we’re going to have a naughty suburb, Kings Cross ought to be our naughty suburb,” he said. Labor Senator Sam Dastyari, who also sits on the inquiry, observed that “no matter what happens in Sydney, the property developers always win”.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and the Alliance for Gambling Reform are urging the retail chain Woolworths to exit their $1 billion-plus pokie empire. ACL managing director Lyle Shelton has urged shareholders to pressure the company directors to exit the family-damaging gambling industry. “It is time for Woolworths to exit the industry or support reforms proposed by the Australian Christian Lobby and the Alliance for Gambling Reform,” Mr Shelton said. “Woolworths, which owns 96% of the gambling business AHL Group, is making an estimated $1.2 billion dollars a year off the backs of the poorest Australians,” Mr Shelton said. “The average Australian would be shocked to realise that the grocer who puts food on the table for some families, takes it off others through their gambling profits.”

He said Woolworths owns or operates approximately 12,000 electronic gaming machines through the ALH Group’s 323 poker-machine pubs, in which it is the major shareholder. “If Woolworths were serious about their ‘family friendly’ direction, they should not involve themselves in the socially harmful pokie business.” Mr Shelton said. “Woolworths should use its powerful position to lead by example and minimise the harm posed by poker machines.” “The gambling machines are designed to use deceptive tricks to entice people to continue spending money on them. The damage that this is causing to families and in communities is now well documented.” Mr Shelton said the Australian Christian Lobby was open to working with Woolworths if it is serious about introducing reforms.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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