One News has obtained documents revealing the extent of the Exclusive Brethren’s business interests in New Zealand and its links to a global network.
The confidential directory obtained by One News shows the Exclusive Brethren is becoming increasingly self-sufficient with more than 600 businesses in New Zealand – mainly small firms in trade and agriculture.
Massey University religious studies expert Peter Lineham says the companies are typically partnerships or single owner businesses that employ a relatively small number of people. He says they are usually business interests that can co-operate with each other.
The Exclusive Brethren do not want to rely on the outside world and a confidential memo sent to Brethren worldwide, including in New Zealand and Australia, talks about setting up a universal umbrella group code-named National Office Assist.
The Exclusive Brethren in New Zealand has already set up a shelf company under that name with an aim of helping the church hire its own without relying on “worldly people”.
The company would also help businesses operate without computers – considered a no-no within the strict church.
“They’re very clearly marked out as a little bit different but very active. It must be a big tax income for the government. And they would probably have international links with equivalent businesses in other parts of the world,” says Lineham.
It is not only in business where the Brethren is self-contained, with 15 Westmount schools set up in New Zealand under a trust in 2003. While they are largely funded by the Exclusive Brethren themselves, the schools receive $1.5 million from the government each year.
The schools teach around 1,000 Brethren children, but technology is out of bounds.
Education Minister Steve Maharey says while that may seem odd they want a distinct kind of education. “Part of that distinction appears to be not using modern media techniques.”
The trust behind the schools is run by three of the so-called Secret Seven who bankrolled the anti-government pamphlets at the last election.
But while the Labour Party is annoyed about the Exclusive Brethren’s foray into politics it appears to respect the church’s right to teach its own and taxpayer support for the schools will continue.