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Wednesday, 10 November 1976
Page: 2517

Dr EDWARDS (BEROWRA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is addressed to the Attorney-General and is further to a question asked some weeks ago. Has the AttorneyGeneral received reports as to the activities of a number of religious sects involving allegations of brainwashing and indoctrination of persons joining them and alienation of children from their parents?

Mr ELLICOTT - This matter was raised in the House some weeks ago. As I pointed out then, it does present us with a dilemma. On the one hand there is the clear right to religious freedom that is embedded to some extent in section 1 16 of our Constitution. On the other hand, I do not believe that any thinking person could fail to be appalled by the material that has been put before me as to the effects of certain religious sects on the lives of young people. I believe that the situation confronts us with a dilemma. We hear about cases of intense processes of indoctrination, brainwashing and restrictions upon personal freedom. We have heard about cases in which young people have handed over their assets to these organisations and have become disaffected. Perhaps it is the search by some of our young people for some new life style or an attitude of bewilderment with the society in which they are living which has caused them to do this. But at the same time, it has raised this very serious question. I think we need to ask whether the problem has ceased to be one of freedom of religion or rather is one of the protection of the young from skilfully organised people who are attempting to brainwash, indoctrinate and deprive people of property.

I raised this question recently with the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, but the reaction of the Attorneys-General was simply to note the matter. They were not prepared to take it up. I can only say that I shall keep it under consideration within my Department. It was a matter for review by the Attorney-General of New York. He had to give up also. However, may I say also that the law does provide, as the lawyers present will recall, in cases of undue influence upon those who have been affected by a religious experience or by an over-religious experience which has resulted in them giving away their property, that if they have done so in a relationship of influence on the part of those involved, they can go to court and claim a return of their property. At the moment, that is about the only law which provides some sort of an answer to this type of problem.

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