Supreme win for ‘church’ wedge build

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A GROUP that had its bid to build a place of worship on green wedge land in Carrum Downs rejected by VCAT has won a Supreme Court of Victoria appeal to construct buildings on 26.3 hectares of land.

The Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) group, headquartered in India, successfully argued a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal decision ruling RSSB is not a religion should be overruled by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court decided on 8 June that VCAT applied “the wrong indicia” in February when the planning appeals tribunal ruled plans to build a place of worship for RSSB devotees “are not related to the practice or following of a religion”.

The RSSB will now build a place of worship, caretaker’s dwelling and building for guests on the green wedge land the group owns at 2 Boundary Rd, Carrum Downs and an adjacent block at 724 Frankston-Dandenong Rd, Carrum Downs.

Devotees are vegetarian, teetotal and abstain from recreational drugs while “leading a life of high moral values and undertaking the practice of meditation” according to evidence lodged at the Supreme Court.

A 7-1 majority of Frankston councillors in July last year voted to approve the construction of the worship dwellings on green wedge land before the Defenders of the South East Green Wedge group asked VCAT to consider setting aside council’s approval.

Defenders spokesman Barry Ross said the group did not contest the Supreme Court case and expected VCAT’s decision to be overruled.

“It was no surprise when it was based on a High Court decision in 1983 that determined Scientology was a religion.”

RSSB member Pradeep Raniga, in his evidence to the Supreme Court, said ‘Radha Soami’ means ‘Lord of the Soul’ and “that in meditating, followers are trying to connect to the Lord”.

Followers can maintain existing religious beliefs.

RSSB’s “spiritual leader” is Baba Gurinder Singh who lives in northern India.

“I have no evidence of commercialisation being a component of RSSB Australia,” Justice Emerton said in this month’s Supreme Court ruling.

“The application before me includes an olive grove and vegetable garden, totalling over seven hectares in size, which is to be tended by volunteer labour drawing on attendees to the site, the produce from which is proposed to be used by the respondent [RSSB] and donated to charities”.

First published in the Frankston Times – 26 June 2017

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