Prime Minister John Howard revealed on Tuesday he had met members of the sect, which was criticised in an ABC TV Four Corners program on Monday for allegedly taking large undeclared sums of cash across international borders and hushing up child abuse allegations.
Mr Howard has defended the right of the group to run its own affairs and speak out on issues it believes are important.
Federal Families Minister Mal Brough told ABC radio he had also met members of the group.
Opposition frontbencher Kevin Rudd said that although he had no problem with ministers meeting the group, there were questions over the sect’s political role and whether its schools should receive federal funding.
“On their role in politics … they are such a secret society and secret sect, and I am concerned about organisations like that having an indirect or direct role in politics,” Mr Rudd said.
“But my broader concern goes to the extent that the Exclusive Brethren-run schools.
“The Exclusive Brethren, based on my advice, actively discourages children from using information technology, from learning how to use computers properly because they will provide avenues of contact with the outside world.
“I have real reservations having federal taxpayers’ money going into those sorts of schools.”
The Brethren operate four schools in Queensland.
Mr Brough said he had no problem with the Exclusive Brethren making political comment and was confident their schools would not receive funding unless they met all requirements.
“My understanding of the Brethren, having met with them once, one group, is that they don’t believe in trading or doing business outside their own group,” he said.
Mr Brough said he was unaware of the group making any donations to the Liberal Party.
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