The New Zealand Labour Party says recent international political activity by the Exclusive Brethren is worrying and shows the country has become another battleground for the religious group’s far-right global agenda.
Labour strategist Pete Hodgson has used the growing prominence of the group to attack the National Party over the sect’s support for it during the election campaign last year. But the Nationals say he is trying to divert attention from Labour’s misspending of taxpayer money during the campaign.
The Exclusive Brethren spent an undisclosed sum on a pro-John Howard, anti-Greens campaign at the Federal election in Australia in 2004 and have since been involved in elections in New Zealand, Tasmania and Sweden.
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In New Zealand, they waged a campaign worth more than $500,000 attacking Labour. Documents showed they wanted to spend more but were blocked by spending rules.
In Victoria, Australia, State Nationals leader Peter Ryan revealed he had met members of the secretive group but said his party would not accept campaign funding until the sect was cleared of dirty politics allegations in the New Zealand election.
Mr Hodgson said Labour suspected the sect of a letter-writing campaign to newspapers attacking Prime Minister Helen Clark.
New Zealand had always resisted overseas influence on its democracy and the New Zealand National Party’s acceptance of the sect’s support was of concern, Mr Hodgson said.
“The Brethren are now active throughout the developed world, popping up in the final weeks of election campaigns with huge injections of cash in Northern Europe, North America and Australia.”
Mr Hodgson said Mr Ryan was right not to accept funding from the sect.
“It’s a shame that New Zealand National Party leader Don Brash doesn’t feel the same,” he said. “Dr Brash has never condemned the secretive, misleading tactics of the Brethren in the 2005 campaign and has publicly welcomed their support.”
A spokesman for Dr Brash said Mr Hodgson was trying to divert attention.
“Mr Hodgson’s outburst is just the latest clumsy attempt to divert attention from Helen Clark’s misuse of taxpayer funds at the last election,” the spokesman said.