Nick Xenophon will re-write and re-submit his motion for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology and similar organisations after the South Australian senator declared himself a “stubborn bastard” who would not give up on cult victims.
Both major parties voted to defeat Senator Xenophon’s motion last Thursday to inquire into introducing a public benefit test before religions could claim a tax exemption.
But he said he had been encouraged by conversations with some Coalition MPs since the vote to believe they might support a differently worded motion.
Addressing a conference of cult survivors in Brisbane today, Senator Xenophon said the new motion might include a push for police to take criminal action against cults.
Under this provision, cult leaders could be prosecuted for assault for causing psychological harm to their adherents.
He was also attracted to using the Trade Practices Act to prosecute groups for false and misleading conduct if they wrongly claimed to provide therapeutic benefits to their devotees.
The conference has heard a number of heart-rending stories from different religion-based and therapeutic cults. Brisbane Christian Fellowship survivor Helen Pomery told of how the church’s leader, Victor Hall, and his acolytes, “the headship”, had systematically separated her from her husband and two of her children. She has not seen them for nine years.
Another man who enrolled in the northern NSW cult, “Personal Mastery Course”, also known as Universal Knowledge and Life Integration Programs, was required to run 10km every day, or 20km for punishment, to meditate, adopt a strict vegan diet and undergo bizarre punishments and rituals for a year.
Government urged to back Scientology inquiry
Social commentator Phillip Adams has accused the two major political parties of turning a blind eye to the issue after they joined forces to vote down a parliamentary inquiry into the church’s, and other charities’, tax-free status last week.
Speaking at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Mr Adams said Scientology was a pseudo-religion that shouldn’t enjoy charity status in Australia.
He said Australia should follow the example of the United Kingdom, where a strict public-benefit test applies.
“To hear those idiots in the Senate talking about Scientology as a religion when it’s a racket is ludicrous,” he said at what organisers called the largest gathering ever held in Australia under the banner of atheism.
“It just makes you realise how wonderfully protected the group actually is.”
Mr Adams told the audience of atheists, sceptics, humanists, feminists and secularists that Scientology was “a dreadful outfit of excesses and cruelties”.
Former Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison, who is also speaking at the three-day conference, says she doubts the inquiry will get up.
Politicians were scared the challenge to tax-free status would spread to other religions, the former senator said.
“Whilst individually they (the government and coalition) probably don’t like Scientology, they do not want to open up Pandora’s box,” she told AAP.
Fellow presenter Max Wallace, who has written extensively about tax exemption for religious groups in Australia, says tens of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money is handed to the churches each year.
But he noted one anomaly in Australia, the UFO-based religion known as Raelianism.
“The Raelians believe that there are extraterrestrial beings in another galaxy. The tax office decided that because those extraterrestrial beings were material, and not supernatural, it didn’t fall into the definition of religion for tax exemption.”
[Nick Xenophon:] “I believe there is a certain cowardice in turning your back on people who ask for help and ask just to be heard – Kevin Rudd said he wants to wait for the Henry tax review, as excuses go that’s pathetic.
“How dare they, – and I include the Government and the Opposition in this – make this about reviews and processes and procedures.
“The shameful thing is that when you make it just about process, you ignore and damage real people.”
The Senator’s words were met with rapturous applause from the audience, many of whom have been personally involved in organisations such as Scientology.
The conference also heard from former cult members, including Helen Pomery who has not seen her family in nine years, since leaving the Brisbane Christian Fellowship.
“I bear witness to the reality and the power of coercive persuasion and mind control, because I live with its impact every day of my life,” she said.
Ms Pomery told how the elders in the Church had turned her husband and her family against her.
“It is clear that my children now believe that I deserve to be treated with repulsion because now I have left God’s holy order order of headship,” she said.
“They are fully committed to the elders, the men in turn praise them for being good humble obedient slaves to righteousness, because they have proved they will sacrifice their mother for the sake of the gospel.”
Senator Xenophon applauded the courage of former members in coming forward.
“I know a lot of politicians want to pretend this isn’t happening, but good people spoke out, they trusted me with their stories and I will not abandon them, even if it seems Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott want to,” he said.
“The hardest thing for a victim to do is to speak out. The apathy of our politicians makes it even harder.”
The coverage of the allegation levelled against the Church of Scientology has prompted a number of former members to come forward, including Keryn who detailed a childhood of abuse in Sea Org arm of Scientology.