The Bendigo Bank is standing by its decision to close the account of a protest group which is fighting plans to build a mosque in the Victorian city of Bendigo.
The Bendigo Bank last week informed the Stop the Mosque group that it was closing the group's account, saying the bank only wants to do business with organisations that share its values.
The group was raising funds for its fight against a mosque which is proposed for a site near Bendigo's airport.
The bank's decision has drawn criticism on social media, while local councillor Elise Chapman has accused the bank of trying to be the 'moral police'.
"There's a lot of other people - there's murderers, paedophiles, criminals - everybody banks, and I'm sure that those people also have bank accounts at the bank," Ms Chapman said.
"I don't know when the bank becomes the moral police. If the bank was the moral police they’d have not that many customers."
In a statement, the bank said this was a considered decision and the bank has a right to its own opinion.
It says Bendigo Bank wants to do business with organisations whose values align with its own.
It says the bank values tolerance and inclusiveness, qualities which are an important part of a strong community.
Local lawyer backs bank's decision
Councillor Chapman has questioned whether the bank's decision is legal, but Peter Noble, a lawyer with a legal centre in Bendigo, is backing the bank.
"It's debateable. I wouldn't say there's not a case to put before the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission," Mr Noble said.
"But I think, having looked at the legislation, that the bank is on pretty strong ground on this one."
Mr Noble says Victorian law has a narrow definition of "political beliefs or activity" that applies only to the operation of government and not to more general social views.
He has also rejected Councillor Chapman's argument that the bank is demonstrating a double standard.
"I'd be pretty surprised if the bank is bankrolling people to commit murder or people to commit murder," he said.
"I think there's a material difference between aiding or abetting someone to commit a crime and providing a facility to someone who may have committed those offences in the past."
The bank has also received support from shareholder activist Stephen Mayne.
"Bendigo bank, unlike any other institution in Australia, has done more to build community cohesiveness and has funded so many different projects across so many communities," Mr Mayne said.
"If it suddenly is a party to a group which is pushing a vision and controversial views then absolutely it has its own rights to decide who it aligns with.
"I think their rationale completely stacks up with their values."
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