The Prime Minister has met in private the most senior leaders of the Exclusive Brethren, including a man who is being investigated by police over his huge spending on Mr Howard’s election campaign in 2004.
In his parliamentary office two weeks ago Mr Howard met Mark Mackenzie, a Sydney pump salesman whose former company Willmac funnelled $370,000 into pro-Howard advertising at the last election. Willmac’s spending was subsequently investigated by the Australian Electoral Commission and then referred to the Australian Federal Police for a criminal investigation, which is continuing.
Also at the August 8 meeting were the secretive sect’s world leader, or “Elect Vessel”, Bruce Hales, his brother Stephen, and elder Warwick John. A Brethren spokesman confirmed yesterday that the meeting with Mr Howard had taken place, but denied they had asked for Mr Howard’s help on the police investigation, or offered support for his campaign in Bennelong.
Mr Howard’s office said he had met members of the Brethren, as he did with a wide range of groups. The Brethren spokesman said: “There was absolutely no dialogue concerning Willmac, just as there was no discussion about €¦ Bennelong.
“The members of the church primarily assured Prime Minister Howard that they were praying for him, as the leader of the Government, and then went on to discuss the economy.
“This was a last-minute opportunity that presented itself. There was no agenda or pre-arranged discussion topics.”
A Greens campaigner in Bennelong, Matthew Henderson, said the sect was already working on Mr Howard’s campaign. At the Prime Minister’s recent walk-through at the Eastwood Plaza shopping centre in his electorate, “there were a bunch of people I went to school with, and who I recognise as Brethren, and they appeared to be more than familiar with the Liberal Party supporters’ group”.