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Thursday, 11 March 2010
Page: 1603

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:49 AM) —I would like to say a few words on this motion. I am surprised that the opposition has no contribution to the debate and I hope I may be able to evoke some. I thank Senator Xenophon for bringing forward this motion—

Senator Chris Evans —Evoke or provoke?

Senator BOB BROWN —Evoke. I thank Senator Xenophon for his work in presenting this very worthwhile proposal to the Senate, as he outlined. This is not about the charitable sector, which is what the government has just spoken about. This is about dangerous cults who take over people’s lives, manipulate them, make lots of money out of them and cut across the lives of vulnerable people who want to find fulfilment in the widest sense of the word. It is about the entrapment of people by sects that take over their lives, their livelihoods and their families and interfere with people’s ability to find the greatest expression of their talents, their fulfilment and their dreams and desires in life.

Scientology is such a group. I am grateful to Senator Milne for this extract from a Scientology website, where the sect puts forward the belief that ‘the health and sanity of the child begin long before birth’. You cannot go past a newsstand at the moment without seeing that Katie Holmes, the film star, is being sent to Scientology boot camp. Apparently, the sessions at boot camp are designed to reveal any ‘hidden crimes’ that a person made in their past lives that may be affecting what is going on at the moment. Sure, we can all debate whether past lives have an effect on us and so on, or whether we have got future and past lives; that is part of the human condition. But when people are sent to camps where they are deprived of wider intercourse with society, where their mind and guilt button are to be reformulated by somebody who thinks they know better—Mr Hubbard, for example—we have to worry about it greatly.

Even then our society is a free, open and democratic one where beliefs and ideas are expressed to the fullest. But should taxpayers be supporting the promotion of cults, which the Prime Minister himself has designated as dangerous, like the Exclusive Brethren and the Scientologists, to the extent of millions of dollars in forgone taxes so that they can put upon people in this sort of fashion? Let us have a look at it.

Senator Xenophon has called for a reference to the Economics References Committee by the Senate to look at the appropriateness of applying the public benefit test currently in place in the UK on such organisations. I think that good charities—and the word ‘charity’ means helping other people—are actually besmirched by the activities of dangerous cults like Scientology and Exclusive Brethren. I do object, and I know that many other Australians object, to millions of dollars being siphoned off to these organisations from the public purse because we have not refined our ability to say that a dangerous cult ought not be getting that money. The Exclusive Brethren I have spoken about in this place before comes into this category too. It is one that cuts across people’s lives to damage their relationship with their kith and kin, because of somebody else’s belief system not because of that person’s own belief or behaviour. That is very worrying about Scientology.

I congratulate Senator Xenophon for the very measured way in which he has had the gumption to bring before this Senate and this parliament the concern of many Australians about what Scientologists are doing. Very often bright young people who are vulnerable have their lives knocked sideways by these somewhat crazy ideas of Ron Hubbard, as if his intergalactic theories are a truth which people should accept and, if they do not, they should be punished by going to boot camp. Surely we are beyond that and surely we are not going to have taxpayers’ money funding that, and I am pre-empting what I think an inquiry would find here.

We have had no adequate explanation from the government as to why it is not supporting this. There will be people in the wider charitable sector worried by such an inquiry. Maybe governments are going to start to levy conditions which might threaten genuine charitable organisations. I do not think so. We should not be frightened of this. We have got the common sense to be able to define and look at tests which separate genuine charitable and community and non-government organisations from dangerous, mind-bending cults, which end up causing havoc, distress, unhappiness and such things as abortions for people who are being directed by what they think is an authority greater than themselves, and which of course is nothing of the sort.

Because the big parties continue to line up against it, I am very concerned that this chamber and this parliament are failing to act in an area where good governance is required. The debate about Scientologists in Germany has led to a much better outcome, I think. They stopped short of banning the organisation, although that was very much on the parliamentary agenda, but they have debated it in full. I think the same should be occurring here. We should not simply move onto the other side of the road or turn our backs on very fine Australians, particularly a lot of young Australians, who fall prey to dangerous cults like the Scientologists or who are locked up, separated from their families by warped organisations like the Exclusive Brethren. I support this inquiry.