The secretive Exclusive Brethren sect appears to have won special dispensation from the Howard Government to exclude union officials from its members’ businesses without consulting their staff.
A Government spokesman claimed yesterday a clause in this year’s WorkChoices legislation that made it easier to bar union officials was not designed to please the conservative religious organisation.
But the Industrial Relations Commission confirmed that, since 2002, every one of the more than 30 employers who claimed a “conscientious objection” exemption belonged to the Exclusive Brethren church.
In 2001, amendments to the Workplace Relations Act substantially expanded the right of some businesses to exclude unions, banning not just closed shops but preventing any union official entry to a workplace, if staff agreed. The staff consultation clause was removed under WorkChoices this year.
The closed and strict Exclusive Brethren sect does not allow its members to vote, read newspapers, watch television or listen to radio, but it has run expensive advertising campaigns in Australia and overseas on behalf of conservative politicians and attacking the Greens.
Greens senator Christine Milne told The Age yesterday that their political influence must be linked to their funding.
“That a sect with such a relatively small number of members gets this kind of treatment from the Government, there must be a considerable amount of money spent to make these outcomes possible,” Senator Milne said.
The Greens’ governance and accountability spokesman, Greg Barber, said Victoria should adopt the United Kingdom’s model of continuous disclosure, where political parties are required to disclose political donations over a certain amount quarterly and then weekly during an election campaign.
He said legislation should be introduced forcing continuous disclosure and the limit for donations without disclosure reduced to $1500. Under the policy, the public would know what influence, if any, the Exclusive Brethren had.
“(Nationals leader) Peter Ryan said he would not accept donations from the Exclusive Brethren but the reality is that 15 of them could get together and donate $10,000 each. Not only is that permissible but we would not even know because the new federal laws €¦ raise the disclosure limit from $1500 up to $10,000,” he said.
The sect is very active in lobbying federal politicians when its interests are threatened or at issue.
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