‘Scientology is evil; its techniques evil; its practice a serious threat to the community, medically, morally and socially; and its adherents sadly deluded and often mentally ill.”
The above statement was not made by Nick Xenophon under the privilege of the Senate this week, but by a Victorian barrister, Kevin Anderson, QC, who had led a two-year government inquiry into the Church of Scientology in the 1960s. Then, as now, former Scientologists alleged that ”mind control”, physical and emotional abuse, and financial deception were standard practices, not exceptions, and integral to the church’s ”brainwashing” of its parishioners.
In 1965, following the Anderson report, Scientology was banned in Victoria. But in other states it continued to employ ministers and celebrate marriage, also carrying out charitable and educational work to meet the criteria of a tax-free church. By 1983, it fought the Victorian Commissioner of Payroll Tax up to the High Court, which ruled for Scientology, saying it ”had easily discharged the onus of showing that it is religious. The conclusion that it is a religious institution entitled to the tax exemption is irresistible”.
Although the decision is repetitively cited by Scientology’s spokespeople, the High Court did not assess the church’s practices or credibility, merely its claims. As Justice Lionel Murphy said, ”Any body which claims to be religious, whose beliefs or practices are a revival of, or resemble, earlier cults, is religious”.
Xenophon, carrying letters from former Scientologists, has called for a new inquiry. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, agreed that he and the community had ”grave concerns” about the allegations, but he stopped short of backing an inquiry. Senator Xenophon’s office has forwarded information to state police departments, and for now it is a police matter; but the senator said that he would continue to press for a public inquiry.
As in the 1960s and in every controversy since, the Scientologists themselves are on the march. The Sydney church’s spokesman, Cyrus Brooks, likened Xenophon’s accusers to disgruntled former spouses, and sought access to the letters.
Xenophon’s speech has galvanised reaction to Scientology’s exemption from paying tax. The independent MP Tony Windsor said he supported an investigation into the wider issue of tax-exempt organisations gaining commercial advantage over taxed competitors.