Approval too late for Wilders tour

APPROVAL for controversial Dutch anti-Islamist MP Geert Wilders to visit Australia came too late yesterday, according to organisers, and his tour has been postponed until February.

Amid speculation that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen deliberately delayed approval in the hope that Mr Wilders would run out of time, the Q Society, which invited Mr Wilders, expressed its disappointment.

Asked whether he thought the delay was deliberate, Q Society spokesman Andrew Horwood declined to speculate but said: ''We thought it was very odd. We don't understand why it took so long - five weeks - for a respected member of Parliament from a respected European country to get a visa.''

Although there were suggestions that Mr Bowen feared riots by Muslims similar to the one in Sydney three weeks ago, Muslim leaders yesterday said they considered that unlikely.

Mr Wilders was to speak in Melbourne on October 16 and Sydney on October 19. He needs 24-hour police protection in the Netherlands after death threats for comparing the Koran to Hitler's Mein Kampf, and advocating banning more Muslim immigration and new mosques.

Mr Horwood said Mr Wilders was not an extremist, but saw things in a different way. ''He cares for his country and culture and is trying to protect it, and we are trying to do the same for Australia.''

Mr Bowen described Mr Wilders' views as offensive and ignorant, but said denying him a visa would serve to gain him more attention.

''The way to deal with Mr Wilders is to defeat him with the force of our ideas and the force of our lived experience of multiculturalism. And I think our society is robust enough to withstand a visit from this fringe commentator from the other side of the world,'' Mr Bowen said.

Australian Muslim leaders were dismissive of Mr Wilders yesterday. Samir Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, said the issue was what Mr Wilders said, not where he said it.

''We are obviously not happy having someone with this type of Islamophobic mindset coming to Australia, but am I concerned about him? No.

''He's done a lot of damage globally, and he's not going to say anything new here.''

Mr Dandan said he was also more concerned about Mr Wilders' sponsor, the Q Society. Mr Wilders would go home, but the Q Society remained, spreading its message of hate.

Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Nazeem Hussain said: ''He presents no threat to the social fabric here.''

Mr Hussain said Australia's far right was far less influential than Europe's, and that even Mr Wilders' former voters had ''realised he's talking rubbish'' and abandoned him.

Vickie Janson of the Australian Christians political party welcomed the visa.

With Richard Willingham

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