Correspondence between the Exclusive Brethren and John Howard reveals the religious sect had a warm relationship with the former prime minister, offering regular political advice.
The Age has obtained four letters in which unidentified sect leaders offer Mr Howard hearty congratulations for the Iraq war, advice about Medicare policy, and recommend massive water projects funded by the sale of Telstra.
The letters show Mr Howard met two Brethren leaders in his Phillip Street office in Sydney on the same day that New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark referred sect members to the police because they hired private detectives to tail her and her husband, and spread rumours he was gay.
The Age obtained the documents 14 months after a freedom- of-information request, which Mr Howard’s office stalled on at each step. Each letter is warm in tone and offers “continual” prayers for Mr Howard, his wife and family.
In the first letter, sent in April 2003, sect leaders congratulated Mr Howard on being invited to George Bush’s Texas ranch in the same week the US leader declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
“God has clearly supported and vindicated the initiative taken [in Iraq], and we are assured He will continue to do so as there is dependence on Him for guidance,” the elders wrote.
In May 2004 the Brethren wrote that they were “deeply concerned” about the media’s success in its “campaign to destabilise your government”.
“The attention of the public needs to be diverted from matters such as the Iraq war, the supposed ill treatment of Iraq prisoners and other contentious issues,” they said, and suggested a massive project to transport water via aqueducts, using funding from the sale of Telstra.
The Brethren run a lucrative network of pump supplies companies, but a spokesman, Tony McCorkell, said yesterday that this was irrelevant to the water question.
Later in 2004 the Brethren, who do not vote, were urged by their Sydney-based world leader Bruce Hales to get behind Mr Howard in the campaign against Mark Latham. As a result, $370,000 of Brethren funding went into pro-Howard advertising – a transaction now under investigation by the federal police.