Radical sect the Exclusive Brethren has intervened in the state election campaign, buying large newspaper advertisements to decry parties with “radical and extreme policies”.
Authorised by Brethren member Ernest Morren, advertisements in The Age and the Herald Sun yesterday were headed “Warning: the future of Victoria is at stake on Saturday”. The ad also appears in The Age on Page 5 today.
The move came as New Zealand Opposition Leader Donald Brash resigned amid claims he sought to cover up a book detailing links between his conservative National Party and the contentious sect.
While the Victorian newspaper advertisements mention no party by name, they are clearly aimed at the Greens, warning that “persons promoting radical and extreme policies could gain control of the upper house” in Victoria. The radical policies named include those allegedly promoting drug use, same-sex marriages and extreme social policies, and opposing new dams.
“Do you want our young people subjected to homosexual education programs?” the advertisements ask. “Don’t take a risk with Victoria’s future.”
Though they do not vote, the Exclusive Brethren members have recently begun advertising in state and federal elections in Australia and internationally to support conservative parties and oppose the Greens.
The Age could not contact Mr Morren last night but has confirmed with former Brethren members that he is a member.
The property listed on the authorisation is not his address, but is the factory of a company, Production Packaging Innovations, owned by senior Brethren member Barry Joyce.
Greens national leader Bob Brown said: “If the ad is coming from the Exclusive Brethren, they should identify themselves. We have no trouble with people advertising, or the Exclusive Brethren entering the campaign €¦ but it should say so.”
When Brethren members have been quizzed in the past about political campaigning, they have claimed they are acting as individuals, not as members of the sect, but former Brethren say any decision must be cleared by sect leaders.
The Age reported last month that the Brethren were about to make their debut in Victorian politics, after they held a successful meeting with Nationals leader Peter Ryan.
After a political furore, Mr Ryan distanced himself from the group, saying he would accept no donations or help from it.
In New Zealand the controversy started last week when Dr Brash, leader of the National Party for three years, obtained an injunction stopping publication of emails to and from his office that had been leaked.
The injunction prevented the release of investigative journalist Nicky Hager’s much-anticipated “expose” of the National Party, and was attacked by the ruling Labour Party as “cynical”.
Hager’s book, The Hollow Men: A Study in the Politics of Deception, will claim that Dr Brash misled the public about the party’s links to the Exclusive Brethren and US neo-cons, and that the party broke election spending laws.
The Brethren have attracted criticism for their strict separatist codes and secretive campaigning on issues including abortion and gay rights.
Dr Brash denies the injunction was aimed at the book, claiming that he had no knowledge of the book at the time he obtained the order.
Announcing his resignation yesterday, he said it was leadership speculation that had led to it, not the book. He slammed Hager’s claims, but said he would move to allow the book’s publication.
“That the National Party is in some way beholden or linked or in cahoots with the neo-conservatives in the United States is absolute crap. That we’ve got funding from the Exclusive Brethren is absolute crap. That we broke election spending rules is absolute crap,” he said.
The controversy over the alleged cover-up was the straw that broke the back of Dr Brash’s leadership, already weakened by a number of gaffes. In 2004, Dr Brash, who had regularly attacked Labour by emphasising the sanctity of marriage, was wounded by his admission of an extramarital affair. In 2005 he said he had gone easy on Prime Minister Helen Clark in a debate because she was a woman.
In September this year, allegations of another affair emerged and Dr Brash, who did not deny them, took leave to sort out marital difficulties. The party’s finance spokesman, John Key, is expected to be his successor. Hager’s book is expected to be released within a week.