Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

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    Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    Commonwealth of Australia



    Thursday, 11 March 2010

    Economics References Committee


    Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (10.36 am)—I move:

    That the following matters be referred to the Economics References Committee for inquiry and report by 24 June 2010:

    (a) the appropriateness of applying the Public Benefit Test currently in place in the United Kingdom’s Charities Act 2006, including balancing benefits against any detriment or harm, to charitable and religious organisations in Australia with respect to their
    tax exempt status;

    (b) whether there is a need to amend Division 50 of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 to accommodate such as test; and

    (c) any related matters.

    This is a matter that the Senate has been well aware of for a number of months now, since I spoke on the Church of Scientology and their tax exempt status several months ago. I have had a motion in this chamber for a number of weeks in relation to an inquiry specifically into the Church of Scientology, but after discussions with my colleagues they felt it was a better approach, a fairer approach, to look at the issue of the tax exempt status generally of charitable and religious organisations. That does not in any way derogate or take away the thrust of what I have been trying to do, but it does make it clear that there was a preference amongst a number of my colleagues that there be a look at the broader issue of a public benefit test for charitable and religious organisations in Australia and that it be looked at by the Economics References Committee.

    Let us put this in perspective. Last November I made a number of allegations about the Church of Scientology in this place as a result of being approached by many victims of the Church of Scientology. I tabled 53 pages of allegations and letters from those victims. Those victims have a right to be heard. At the heart of this is the issue that this organisation, this so-called Church of Scientology, receives tax-free status in this country. It is in effect being subsidised by taxpayers by virtue of its tax-free status.

    The purpose of this inquiry by the Economics References Committee is to ensure that we have a look at what other countries are doing, and in particular what the United Kingdom is doing because in the United Kingdom for a charitable or religious organisation to have tax-free status they need to show that there is a public benefit in what they do. There is a public benefit test and a public benefit requirement under that legislation. That public benefit test looks at a whole range of factors and what the organisation that seeks tax-free status does and whether it causes harm to others.

    In the United Kingdom, for the public benefit test to be fulfilled, the benefits must be balanced against any detriment or harm. In the United Kingdom, examples of things that may be evidence of being detrimental or harmful might include: something that is dangerous or damaging to mental or physical health, something that encourages or promotes violence or hatred towards others, or something that unlawfully restricts a person’s freedom.

    The allegations I have had before me and the statements of victims indicate very clearly that the Church of Scientology has been engaged in such conduct. Victims have a right to be heard. Victims have a right to come forward and be heard in the context of a Senate inquiry. It is important, where taxpayers’ benefits are given in this context, that there be a process where the Senate can look at whether we can have sensible changes to our tax laws applying to charities and religious organisations. May I point out that this has been a robust test in the United Kingdom that has been rigorously applied for some 10 or 15 years. It is a test that has been fair and has stood the test of time over many years.

    Some honourable senators may have seen Quentin McDermott’s story about the Church of Scientology on the ABC Four Corners program on Monday. That raised number of very serious allegations both from here and overseas of how this organisation operates. This organisation operates in a way that seems an anathema to basic standards of decency. Allegations were made of families being split apart, of false imprisonment, of children being forced to work in quite inhumane conditions and of labour where any concept of fair work has been thrown out the window and where people have been working around the clock for a few cents an hour as part of being tethered to this organisation. It talks about the harm that it has caused to individuals and the financial devastation it has caused to individuals. These allegations ought not to be ignored. I think it is also important that we consider, in the context of what is being sought, an inquiry to see if we can improve things. This is an inquiry for the Senate Economics References Committee to see whether there ought to be better and fairer standards in place for an organisation to obtain tax-free status.

    One of the most disturbing allegations made in the Four Corners report and by the victims who have come forward to me—and there have been many hundreds more items of correspondence and emails that I have received since I raised these issues in public—is that of coerced or forced abortions for those women that work in the Sea Org, which is an elite organisation in the Church of Scientology. These matters are very disturbing. Having an inquiry to see whether we should apply a public benefit test is something that I think is very reasonable for this Senate to look at.

    Let us look at the issue of mental health. Just yesterday the Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry; the President of the Royal Australian College of Psychologists, Professor Louise Newman; and the Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Professor Ian Hickie called on senators in this place to vote for an inquiry into these alleged abuses by the Church of Scientology. This group of leading mental health professionals says that the Church of Scientology’s campaign against professional mental health treatment poses a serious risk to the community. Prof McGorry said:

    I have long advocated for the early intervention and treatment of mental health issues and am strongly opposed to any group that obstructs people from seeking help

    Professor Hickie said:

    This organisation has continued to wage a campaign of fear and misinformation that has sought to undermine public confidence in accepted medical treatments.

    Professor Newman said:

    All groups in the community have a right to mental health treatment. It is vital for common conditions such as postnatal depression that people have timely access to a full range of information to allow early intervention in order to support best outcomes for mother and infant.

    Here we have three of the nation’s leading mental health experts expressing serious concerns about an organisation that receives tax-free status in this country. This organisation should be subjected to the very reasonable public benefit test that has applied in the United Kingdom for many years which also weighs up any detriment or harm caused by an organisation seeking tax-free status.

    I will have more to say when I sum up in this debate. I would urge honourable senators to support this inquiry. I understand from the information I have received from both the government and the opposition that they do not do so and I look forward to hearing their reasons. But this is an issue that will not go away and I urge honourable senators to reconsider and support this reference to the economics references committee.

    Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (10.45 am)—This motion goes to the tax treatment of charitable organisations in Australia. The government does recognise that it is an important issue. The contribution regulation and tax treatment of this sector has very recently been the subject of two significant reviews: the Productivity Commission’s study of the contribution of the not-for-profit sector, and the independent tax review. Both reports are currently before the government. Both reviews involved extensive consultation, with the Productivity Commission receiving over 300 submissions during its 12-month-long study and the independent tax review receiving over 1,500 written submissions and 4,700 letters.

    It should be noted that both of these substantial pieces of independent work have benefited from extensive prior consideration of this issue. They follow on the back of three important reviews of the not-forprofit sector conducted over the past 15 years— namely, the 1995 Industry Commission report on charitable organisations in Australia, the 2001 Report of the inquiry into the definition of charities and related organisations and the 2008 Senate Standing Committee on Economics inquiry into disclosure regimes for charities and not-for-profit organisations. It should be specifically noted that one of these precursor reviews was conducted by the Senate economics committee, the same body that the current motion seeks to refer the matter to today. In addition, the 2001 Report of the inquiry into the definition of charities and related organisations went directly to the matter at the centre of today’s motion, recommending that the government strengthen the current public benefit test for charities. The subsequent draft Charities Bill 2003, based on the recommendations of the 2001 inquiry, included a requirement that to be a charity the entity must also meet a public benefit test. To be of public benefit, its purpose must:

    • be aimed at achieving a universal or common good;
    • have practical utility; and
    • be directed to the benefit of the general community or a ‘sufficient section of the community’.

    The Senate should note that the bill did not ultimately come before the parliament due to concerns raised by both the sector and the Board of Taxation that the bill did not provide the sector with sufficient certainty.

    The point here is that this issue has been examined extensively, and this history will inform the government’s current and ongoing detailed consideration of this matter. Based on these detailed records of analysis and in light of the two review reports currently before the government, we will not be supporting this motion today. A further review of or inquiry into this issue is currently unwarranted.

    The government acknowledge Senator Xenophon’s strong interest in this issue and, through the Assistant Treasurer, Senator Sherry, we will keep Senator Xenophon informed of progress on these matters. We are happy to continue to engage with him on this issue going forward. I have also been advised by Senator Stephens that she is leading a significant piece of work in third-party reform which will also inform the government in this area. I thank the Senate.

    Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (10.49 am)—I would like to say a few words on this motion. I am surprised that the opposition has no contribution to the debate and I hope I may be able to evoke some. I thank Senator Xenophon for bringing forward this motion—

    Senator Chris Evans—Evoke or provoke?

    Senator BOB BROWN—Evoke. I thank Senator Xenophon for his work in presenting this very worthwhile proposal to the Senate, as he outlined. This is not about the charitable sector, which is what the government has just spoken about. This is about dangerous cults who take over people’s lives, manipulate them, make lots of money out of them and cut across the lives of vulnerable people who want to find fulfilment in the widest sense of the word. It is about the entrapment of people by sects that take over their lives, their livelihoods and their families and interfere with people’s ability to find the greatest expression of their talents, their fulfilment and their dreams and desires in life.

    Scientology is such a group. I am grateful to Senator Milne for this extract from a Scientology website, where the sect puts forward the belief that ‘the health and sanity of the child begin long before birth’. You cannot go past a newsstand at the moment without seeing that Katie Holmes, the film star, is being sent to Scientology boot camp. Apparently, the sessions at boot camp are designed to reveal any ‘hidden crimes’ that a person made in their past lives that may be affecting what is going on at the moment. Sure, we can all debate whether past lives have an effect on us and so on, or whether we have got future and past lives; that is part of the human condition. But when people are sent to camps where they are deprived of wider intercourse with society, where their mind and guilt button are to be reformulated by somebody who thinks they know better—Mr Hubbard, for example—we have to worry about it greatly.

    Even then our society is a free, open and democratic one where beliefs and ideas are expressed to the fullest. But should taxpayers be supporting the promotion of cults, which the Prime Minister himself has designated as dangerous, like the Exclusive Brethren and the Scientologists, to the extent of millions of dollars in forgone taxes so that they can put upon people in this sort of fashion? Let us have a look at it.

    Senator Xenophon has called for a reference to the Economics References Committee by the Senate to look at the appropriateness of applying the public benefit test currently in place in the UK on such organisations. I think that good charities—and the word ‘charity’ means helping other people—are actually besmirched by the activities of dangerous cults like Scientology and Exclusive Brethren. I do object, and I know that many other Australians object, to millions of dollars being siphoned off to these organisations from the public purse because we have not refined our ability to say that a dangerous cult ought not be getting that money. The Exclusive Brethren I have spoken about in this place before comes into this category too. It is one that cuts across people’s lives to damage their relationship with their kith and kin, because of somebody else’s belief system not because of that person’s own belief or behaviour. That is very worrying about Scientology.

    I congratulate Senator Xenophon for the very measured way in which he has had the gumption to bring before this Senate and this parliament the concern of many Australians about what Scientologists are doing. Very often bright young people who are vulnerable have their lives knocked sideways by these somewhat crazy ideas of Ron Hubbard, as if his intergalactic theories are a truth which people should accept and, if they do not, they should be punished by going to boot camp. Surely we are beyond that and surely we are not going to have taxpayers’ money funding that, and I am pre-empting what I think an inquiry would find here.

    We have had no adequate explanation from the government as to why it is not supporting this. There will be people in the wider charitable sector worried by such an inquiry. Maybe governments are going to start to levy conditions which might threaten genuine charitable organisations. I do not think so. We should not be frightened of this. We have got the common sense to be able to define and look at tests which separate genuine charitable and community and non-government organisations from dangerous, mind-bending cults, which end up causing havoc, distress, unhappiness and such things as abortions for people who are being directed by what they think is an authority greater than themselves, and which of course is nothing of the sort.

    Because the big parties continue to line up against it, I am very concerned that this chamber and this parliament are failing to act in an area where good governance is required. The debate about Scientologists in Germany has led to a much better outcome, I think. They stopped short of banning the organisation, although that was very much on the parliamentary agenda, but they have debated it in full. I think the same should be occurring here. We should not simply move onto the other side of the road or turn our backs on very fine Australians, particularly a lot of young Australians, who fall prey to dangerous cults like the Scientologists or who are locked up, separated from their families by warped organisations like the Exclusive Brethren. I support this inquiry.

    Senator ABETZ (Tasmania) (10.57 am)—I indicate on behalf of the coalition that we fully accept the sincere and genuine nature in which Senator Xenophon has presented this motion to the Senate. We also indicate that we have some great degree of sympathy for those former members of the so-called Church of Scientology to which he refers. It is unfortunate when people do get involved in these types of organisations. But the issue I suppose that has been agitating the collective mind of the coalition is: how much can you in fact prevent people from voluntarily allowing themselves to be brainwashed on a particular issue in a particular area? That is the issue that we have confronted.

    Whilst the motion on the face of it looks relatively innocuous—it talks about a general inquiry into matters of tax and charitable status generally—there is no doubt from the speeches of Senator Xenophon and Senator Bob Brown, who support this motion, that it would not just be a general discussion of matters of taxation; it would in fact be wider. A number of times Senator Xenophon and Senator Bob Brown have indicated— or at least Senator Xenophon indicated—the need for these victims, as he described them, and I have no reason to describe them otherwise, to be allowed to tell their story. They should be allowed to tell their story. In fact they have told their story. It is one of the great things about the freedom of the press in this country that they have been able to tell their story and expose some of those elements which, I think, make the overwhelming majority of Australians decide not to get involved in the Church of Scientology.

    Let us be clear: there are very real issues with the Church of Scientology. But what I say when people seek to point to particular cults, minority religions or whatever, as I have said in previous debates, is that if there is illegality let that illegality be referred to the appropriate authority. Take, for example, a forced abortion, as opposed to somebody, for whatever foolish reason, being convinced that they should have an abortion. I think we have to be careful in relation to that. I think everybody knows what my view on abortion full stop is, so I do not raise this issue lightly. But, if somebody has been physically forced to have an abortion, that is clearly a crime in this country. If that is the case, I would encourage the victim of such an activity to go to the appropriate authority to have that matter prosecuted by the full force of the law, as it should be.

    We have also heard that they engage in false imprisonment. If that is the case, then, with respect, rather than floating it before a Senate inquiry, it should be floated before the authorities, to be prosecuted. If there are allegations of child labour, in breach of our industrial laws, let that be reported to the appropriate authority and prosecuted. There is a claim that families are being split apart. I am not sure that there is a law against that necessarily, but I know that as a result of political views families are sometimes split apart. I know that as a result of business deals going wrong families are sometimes split apart. We can think of a whole range of reasons why families are split apart.

    Religious beliefs also cause some families to be split apart.

    Senator Xenophon expressed very well his view on the dangerous belief of the Church of Scientology in relation to mental health. It is a dangerous view that they express, but can I say with great respect that Jehovah’s Witnesses—I hope I do not do them an injustice here—have a very strong view that blood transfusions should not be allowed. Some people would argue that that is just as dangerous a view as counselling people against—

    Senator Bob Brown—We have legislated against that, though. We have legislated to prevent people from being harmed by that view.

    Senator ABETZ—Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be forced to have a blood transfusion, Senator Brown, because that would be an assault on their body. People do have the right to refuse medical treatment, should they want to. I think it is a dangerous view. I think it is an inappropriate view. But in Australia we allow people to hold such views. In relation to not wanting the help of mental health specialists—those who would be able to assist in the provision of mental health upport—similarly, I think that is a dangerous and inappropriate view to hold. But in our free society we allow people to hold silly, bizarre and even dangerous views. That is why we do allow Jehovah’s Witnesses to refuse blood transfusions. That is why we do allow people, should they want to, to refuse the help of mental health professionals.

    I just want to place those matters on the record and remind the mover of the motion and Senator Bob Brown that what seems to be a very innocuous motion is clearly part and parcel of a bigger issue. Senator Xenophon was quite upfront about it, and that is why I accept the sincerity and genuineness with which this motion has come forward. There is an underlying agenda here which is that those who see themselves as victims of cults should be able to air their concerns. It would be interesting to see, given that certain other religions are given tax deductibility status in this nation, whether we would bring them into it as well, especially those who might teach jihad, for example. Would we want to bring those organisations into this?

    Would we also want to, potentially, bring in the Wilderness Society? It has an activist who is now running for the Greens in Tasmania. He was captured on TV by Channel 9 trying to organise for a parliamentarian to be forcibly handcuffed to a demonstrator. Would that be a harm, as opposed to a benefit? Given the general terms of this inquiry, anybody with a beef or a concern—some a lot more serious, such as those about the Church of Scientology, and some potentially less serious—could come along to air their grievances about a particular organisation. I could see, with respect, the Privileges Committee of the Senate working overtime to vet the statements of rebuttal in relation to all the allegations that are made. In fact, we had that situation with the Greens allegations against the Exclusive Brethren. I understand that in recent times, following Senator Xenophon’s allegations against the Church of Scientology, the Church of Scientology has sought to respond, to put things on the Senate record rebutting that which has been alleged.

    So the real issue then is: is this simply an opportunity for people to air their grievances? I think that is what it is designed to do. I say in fairness that the freedom of the press in this country has allowed that to occur exceptionally well. The question then is: are there illegalities, and is the Senate the right vehicle to pursue those illegalities or is it the Australian Taxation Office, the children’s commissioner, the occupational health and safety authorities et cetera? It seems to me that they are the appropriate authorities to prosecute these matters, rather than having a Senate committee running around as a de facto criminal investigation bureau or police force.

    In relation to the tax deductability issue, which is one way of getting at these organisations, are we really saying that people only get involved in the Church of Scientology because that organisation has a certain taxdeductible status? I do not think so. Taking up Senator Brown’s point, do people get involved in the Exclusive Brethren only because of the tax deductibility status?

    Senator Bob Brown—I didn’t say that.

    Senator ABETZ—I know you did not say that, Senator Brown, but the motion only deals with tax deductibility, and you are trying to use it as a vehicle to attack these organisations. Do people only get involved in the Wilderness Society, for example, because of tax deductibility status? Do people get involved in some of the more extreme Muslim organisations for that reason? I confess that I am not fully aware of whether these organisations do or do not get tax deductibility status. But I think the answer would be that people get involved because, rightly or wrongly, they believe in the framework of beliefs put forward by those various organisations. In a free country, people are, unfortunately, free to make the wrong decisions. But this parliament needs to ensure that no illegality occurs, and that is why I once again say that, if there are allegations of illegality, rather than airing them in front of the Senate, take them to the appropriate authorities to be investigated and prosecuted.

    Having gone through the notes I took on the comments made by honourable senators during the debate, I do not think there is much more to add, other than to repeat that we accept the sincerity and genuine nature of Senator Xenophon’s contribution and desire to provide a vehicle for people to air their concerns. But what we say is that an inquiry would not be only for the Church of Scientology; it would be for those who believe they have good reason to be disaffected by a whole range of organisations to come before this committee. Rather than the Senate take on that role, if there are issues of illegality or organisations clearly not conducting themselves as charities, then let the Australian Taxation Office, in this case, deal with the matter.

    Interestingly, the Henry tax review, I understand, has considered the status of charitable organisations on top of all those reports that Senator Ludwig referred to in his contribution. I will not go through all of those other than to say that the Henry tax review has looked at this as well. So I say somewhat tongue in cheek to the minister across the table that we look forward to the quick release of the Henry tax review to see what it might say about this particular area, but we will not be holding our breath. Having said that, we have reluctantly come to the position of not being able to support Senator Xenophon’s motion.

    Senator MILNE (Tasmania) (11.12 am)—I have heard hypocrisy in this place before and I have heard weasel words before, but I have to congratulate Senator Abetz’s exemplary performance on both hypocrisy and weasel words in commenting on Senator Xenophon’s motion. From listening to Senator Abetz, you would not know what the motion calls for an inquiry into. It calls for an inquiry into the taxation status of the Church of Scientology and the application of a public interest and benefit test in terms of whether the church should get the benefits of having charitable status. Why should the public interest test not be applied to this cult? The Church of Scientology is a cult, and there are demonstrated cases of people who have suffered because of it.

    Senator Abetz said let us look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the fact that they choose not to have blood transfusions. Senator Abetz is wrong. When it comes to minors, it is now the law in Australia that a doctor can give a blood transfusion to a child, regardless of the beliefs of the child’s family, if the child is in danger of dying. The doctor has an obligation to keep that person alive.

    Let us go to the issue that Senator Xenophon has raised. The coalition, of all people in this chamber, are saying there is no need to have an inquiry so that people can air their views because we have a free press in this country and that is the mechanism for people to air their views. Well, perhaps they can explain why they run so many select committees from one end of the country to the other, giving anybody who is disaffected with anything the government has to say an opportunity to air their views. Well, if the Senate committee process is not for the purpose of allowing the community to air their views, let people air their views in the paper, not through Senate committees.

    That is what we do. That is why we have Senate inquiries, so that people can air their views on a particular matter, and in this case the particular matter is the detrimental impacts of the Church of Scientology and the question of whether there is a public benefit in providing that organisation with the tax status it has so that it benefits from not having to pay the same tax as other organisations. I say: why isn’t that an appropriate thing for this parliament to look at? The taxpayers, the community of Australia, are extending to this organisation preferential status and saying, ‘You are exempt from paying tax.’ That means the rest of us pay more taxes for everything else so that some organisations are tax-free, and that is entirely appropriate. But the parliament of Australia makes the laws. The parliament of Australia makes judgments about particular acts and so on. The idea of applying, as they do in Britain, the public benefit test to this seems entirely appropriate to me.

    Like everyone in this chamber, I have had emails from people talking about the adverse impacts. But what is even more startling here is when you get the Australian of the Year, Professor Patrick McGorry, coming out and saying that this should be supported because this particular cult actually engages in potentially harmful interventions for people with serious mental health problems. Come on, mental health is a really big issue in this country, and I think a lot of people were very pleased when Professor McGorry was made Australian of the Year because it gives some profile to issues around mental health, which a lot of us have been trying to get more assistance for in the community for a long time. He has come out and said that not only does this cult make harmful interventions with its own followers but it actively goes out and undermines public confidence in many of the practices of mental health practitioners around Australia. If the coalition is happy for that to continue then let the coalition hear what people have to say. Why not get Professor McGorry and the mental health specialists to the committee and let them talk about the mental health issues they deal with with people involved in this. Senator Abetz says that the victims can go and get help, but the victims of Scientology and the Exclusive Brethren and many of these other cults have mental health issues as a result of what has happened to them. They have had inculcated into them in terms of the Church of Scientology that getting help for mental illness is wrong and cannot be allowed, that the only help for problems you have is within these so-called boot camps that they run. So the issue here is that people who have now got serious mental illness, at the very least depression, will not access health professionals because they have been told for years that these people are not offering a valid service and are not offering serious medical help.

    I would like to know from the coalition and from the government what they propose to do about the fact that the taxpayers of Australia are giving a financial benefit to an organisation which actively undermines public confidence in our mental health facilities and processes. What do we propose to do about that? I would like somebody in the coalition to tell me precisely what you think you are going to do about that, because it is nothing. If we get to the truth about why you are opposing this inquiry, it is because you are afraid that the
    inquiry might go to the community asking questions about which organisations should have charitable status, which is a legitimate concern that the community might have, and that could be the subject of a broader inquiry. But the issue here is the Church of Scientology, and if they have nothing to hide, if they are not actively undermining public confidence in Australia’s mental health services, then let them come to the committee and say that. Let them come and say why they should have tax-exempt status. I am keen to know. Let them answer the questions that the community has and that this parliament has. Let them justify their position. There is an invitation and always a fairness test in Senate committees where we give both sides of the argument the opportunity to appear, to make submissions, to respond and so on. There is no suggestion they will be excluded; they can come along. But they do not want to be investigated, they do not want to have their tax status questioned, and so they are trying to shut down the idea that the Australian parliament should look into what is a cult.

    I do not support cults. I have seen the impact on families and communities because of the activities of cults. I do support a lot more funding to mental health services around Australia and I am one of those people who are delighted that Professor McGorry is the Australian of the Year and that mental health will have a higher profile in the Australian community because of that. And I take notice when someone with his standing in the field of mental health comes out and backs a Senate inquiry into Scientology because he says that, quite clearly, the organisation has promoted untested and potentially harmful interventions for people with serious mental health problems. Is that a concern? Should the parliament be concerned about that? I am. I am very concerned when you have a leading expert in the field of mental health saying that a cult engages in practices which have potentially harmful interventions for people with serious mental health problems. If you are not going to support this inquiry that sensibly has been brought forward by Senator Xenophon, what are you going to do about it? Sweep it under the carpet? Tell people, ‘There is the media out there; I suggest you go to one of those programs and air your concerns on the media, but don’t bring it near the parliament’?

    How would we respond if they came in here and said the same thing on a range of issues that we have referred to Senate committees? It is legitimate for the parliament of Australia to ask, ‘Isn’t it time that we applied a public interest and benefits test to organisations which are getting tax-exempt status when the rest of the community pays more in tax to enable that to occur?’ Therefore, why shouldn’t we be reassured that they have some beneficial qualities or influence in the community? If they cannot prove that, why would we want to give them tax exempt status? It is not good enough for either the government or the coalition to vote down this inquiry, sweep it under the carpet, let this cult continue, let lives be destroyed, let families be destroyed, let the taxpayers of Australia pay more to enable that to happen and to do nothing else. Meanwhile they rush about shaking Professor McGorry’s hand at every opportunity saying, ‘Marvellous, marvellous; look at me; reflected glory; I’m standing next to the Australian of the Year; I really support mental health,’ except when he says something that they do not agree with like, ‘A cult is operating in Australia undermining confidence in mental health and engaging in potentially harmful practices.’

    I am really disgusted that the whole of the Senate is not supporting an inquiry into whether or not we provide tax-exempt status to this organisation and whether the public benefit test ought not to apply. I look forward to hearing from the government and the coalition on what they intend to do about the abuses that are going on in relation to mental health and what they intend to do about the victims suffering from the mental health consequences of their involvement in cults. If you say nothing, then please do Professor McGorry the courtesy of not pretending you support action on mental health.

    Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (11.24 am)—If hypocrisy had a colour, it would certainly be green after what Senator Milne has just spoken about, which was meant to be about this motion. This motion by Senator Xenophon is about tax deductibility and yet Senator Milne has, like the Greens have consistently and regularly done, turned it into a religious witchhunt. Remember, this is the organisation that wanted members of the Exclusive Brethren Christian organisation to mark their businesses so that people would know who they were going to be dealing with. It was the Greens’ Star of David that they wanted to impose. That is how they want to misuse and undermine the freedom of religion in this country.

    Senator Bob Brown—Madam Acting Deputy President Boyce, I rise on a point of order. I object to that asseveration about the Star of David in the strongest terms and I ask Senator Bernardi to withdraw.

    Senator BERNARDI—Madam Acting Deputy President, I will withdraw the inference that the Star of David was the symbol that the Greens wanted to put on every Exclusive Brethren business. But make no mistake, the Greens wanted to ensure that people of a particular religious persuasion were going to be marked in their businesses. They can deny it and they can try and cover it up but that is their history and that is on the record. If Senator Milne wants to talk about undermining the key principles and the integrity of our system, what about freedom of religion? If you want to talk about preserving taxpayers’ money, what about the hypocrisy and the stunt that they pulled when we were debating means testing a particular government measure? They all stood up and declared that they may be affected because their incomes may be below that specific level. The inquiry should be, ‘How does a leader of a political organisation reduce his taxable income by some 60 per cent in a single year?’ Perhaps you can have an inquiry into that. Where do you get $150,000 worth of tax deductions every year, Senator Bob Brown?—that is the real question. Perhaps it is by donating to some tripe or some nonsensical green organisation that has rorted the system.

    If we are going to have an inquiry into tax deductibility of organisations and misuse of funds, then it should not be a persecution of religious organisations that have been recognised as religions. It should be about the integrity of the organisation, and there is very little integrity in these green organisations that secretly fund a party that is bent on overthrowing and undermining the very integrity of our political system in this country. I am extraordinarily disappointed, but not surprised, that the Greens continue to go down this path.

    Let me turn to the substance of Senator Xenophon’s motion. I understand the sentiments behind it. I understand and recognise that there are a great many people affected by a great many organisations in this country, some of which do not do the right thing. But I do not support and I cannot support the persecution of a religious organisation. I am not making the judgment whether the Church of Scientology should be deemed a religion or not. The fact is, it is. When we open up the door into what is deemed a religious organisation in this parliament by having an inquiry into the substance of this motion, I think we are chasing rabbits down burrows, which actually threatens the very freedoms that we enjoy in this country.

    I recently read Senator Xenophon’s speech about the Church of Scientology. I thought it was considered and heartfelt and there was a lot of evidence. If we really want to go down the path where religions treat people poorly because they choose to not participate in them anymore, then we can look at some of the mainstream religions. We can have a look at the Koranic text that says, if you commit apostasy and renounce your faith, you actually are meant to be put to death. In some countries that happens. Do we support that? No, it is terrible and awful, yet it is part of a religious teaching. If you want to talk about the brainwashing and indoctrination of people into cult-like and trance-like states, then you could actually have a look at some of the customs and practices that take place in the madrasahs in other nations where young children are taught over and over again to recite the Koran. We could look at some of the organisations involved in Islam in this country where there has been repeated incitement of violence, jihad, mayhem and murder, and there has been a defence of people who enact that by some senior Islamic scholars.

    No religion is absolutely perfect. There are failings in many of them but people choose to go into a religion and they can choose to leave it. While the Church of Scientology is recognised as a religion in this country I will defend their right to conduct themselves in that practice. The problem with supporting this motion is that, even though it is dressed up in lamb’s clothing, it is a wolf of an inquiry into religious freedom. Senator Milne’s contribution today reinforces that. It is not about public funding, it is not about tax deductibility; it is really, in Senator Milne’s eyes, about going after a religious organisation and she has made that very clear. I do not think that is healthy. If we were to confine it to only the substantive motion and remove ‘any related matters’ from this motion, why would we be having an inquiry into tax deductibility of charitable and religious organisations only weeks—hopefully days but it could be weeks, or a few months—ahead of the Henry taxation review, which is a comprehensive review designed to go through the entire taxation system in this country? I would say that the government should get on with releasing this review. I understand the Prime Minister has said he has not even read the Henry review because he has had more pressing issues to deal with, apparently, than the reform of the Australian taxation system.

    Senator Parry—The travel itinerary.

    Senator BERNARDI—Yes, the travel itinerary, I guess. Why would we not have a look at the Henry tax review, which may address all of these issues very quickly? Then we can get on with the job of making appropriate decisions in the full light of an examination which has already taken place.

    Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (11.31 am)—I thank honourable senators for their contributions and senators Brown and Milne for their indication of support. I want to address up front what Senator Bernardi said—that this inquiry somehow is an attack on the freedom of religion. I need to repudiate that absolutely. This is not about what people can believe in; it is about how people behave. I have had many allegations put to me about the behaviour of this organisation, the so-called ‘Church of Scientology’. I invite Senator Bernardi to read the judgment which gave the Church of Scientology its tax-free status in the early 1980s, in particular the judgment of Justice Murphy. There is a flaw in the logic of what Senator Bernardi is saying, which surprises me. He can be a logical man on some things but when it comes to this there is a fundamental flaw in his logic. He is saying that we cannot look behind an organisation which purports to be a religion to see whether it should get the benefit of a tax-free status from Australian taxpayers.

    I am grateful for the contribution by Senator Abetz, who says people do not join these organisations for their tax-free status, but the fact is these organisations thrive because of their tax-free status and their behaviour ought to be brought to account. For more than four months I have been talking to the government and the opposition about this issue and I have been talking publicly about the tax-exempt status for the so-called ‘Church of Scientology’. This morning my office was advised by an adviser from the government that they could not support this inquiry because they thought it might pre-empt the Henry tax review—and that is something the opposition are saying as well—a report, I note, which the government have but will not release. I was also told by the opposition that they would not support this very simple inquiry.

    This is a straightforward inquiry into the need for a public benefit test for organisations that receive tax exemptions from the Australian government, exemptions which we all, as taxpayers, pay for. The United Kingdom already has this test in place. It has been tried and tested there. It is fair, robust and just. In the United Kingdom they need to assess public good and public harm before they can say to an organisation, ‘Our nation will support you with our tax breaks.’ It is not a big deal. It is nothing to be scared of.

    To date I have not personalised this debate, despite the fact that many moving and disturbing personal stories about many Australian victims of Scientology have been shared with me and my office. I refer to the courageous people who have come forward: to Aaron Saxton, Carmel Underwood and her family, Paul Schofield, Liz and James Anderson and also to the family of Edward McBride, who so tragically took his life after being involved with the Church of Scientology. That was the subject of a coronial inquest in Queensland, an inquest which was fettered, which was impeded, because this so-called ‘church’ took away files relating to the late Mr McBride and shipped them off to the United States. This organisation has a tax-free status and, given the allegations put forward, this beggars belief. If honourable senators have not seen it, I invite them to watch Four Corners from Monday night, to see some very disturbing allegations in terms of the way this so-called ‘church’ operates.

    I have not personalised this debate but it is important that we put into context what this is about. We are not just politicians; we are people. There is a certain cowardice in turning your back on people who ask for help or ask just to be heard. In effect, Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, says he wants to wait for the Henry tax review, despite the fact that he expressed his concerns when these allegations were made public a few months ago.

    As excuses for inaction go, that is pathetic. How dare he make this about reviews, processes and procedure? Here and now, on this issue, this is a government that hides behind process as an excuse for doing nothing. The opposition has done the same. The shameful thing is that, when you make it about process, you ignore and damage real people. The opposition had a chance to do the right thing here also, but it has chosen to do nothing. I am asking for an inquiry. I am not asking for new laws. I am just asking for the opportunity to find out more. I ask Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott: what is it about forced abortions you do not want to know about? What is it about false imprisonment you do not want to know about? What is it about a policy of breaking up families that you do not want to know about? What is it about a dangerous campaign against mental health services that you do not want to know about? What is it about the physical and psychological abuse of Australians that you do not want to know about? What is it about child labour law abuses that you do not want to know about? What is it about high suicide rates amongst followers and ex-followers that you do not want to know about?

    Every senator in this place worked hard to get here because they wanted to lead. But leading does not mean just doing the easy things. Leading is about doing the hard things because they are the right things. I cannot accept that Australian lives have been destroyed, that more Australian lives may be destroyed and that this parliament says, ‘No, it’s not our problem.’ I know a lot of people in this parliament want to pretend this is not happening, but I will not turn my back on the victims of scientology and I am gravely disappointed that both the Prime Minister and the opposition leader are willing to do so. The hardest thing for a victim to do is to speak out. Today, it seems that this place—the Senate, in the Australian parliament—will make it even harder. I can assure my colleagues that I will not let this lie. This issue will not go away. It might be more convenient for some politicians to pretend they can slide out of this, that they can dodge their responsibilities to the Australian community, but guess what? You will not get away with it. My message to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, is simple: trying to look away will not make this issue go away.

    Question put:

    That the motion (Senator Xenophon’s) be agreed to.

    The Senate divided. [11.43 am]

    (The Acting Deputy President—Senator JM Troeth)

    Ayes………… 6
    Noes………… 34
    Majority……… 28


    Brown, B.J.
    Hanson-Young, S.C.
    Ludlam, S.
    Milne, C.
    Siewert, R.*
    Xenophon, N.


    Adams, J. *
    Back, C.J.
    Bernardi, C.
    Bilyk, C.L.
    Bishop, T.M.
    Boyce, S.
    Bushby, D.C.
    Cameron, D.N.
    Collins, J.
    Cormann, M.H.P.
    Crossin, P.M.
    Farrell, D.E.
    Feeney, D.
    Fielding, S.
    Fifield, M.P.
    Fisher, M.J.
    Forshaw, M.G.
    Furner, M.L.
    Hurley, A.
    Hutchins, S.P.
    Ludwig, J.W.
    Lundy, K.A.
    Marshall, G.
    McEwen, A.
    McLucas, J.E.
    Moore, C.
    Nash, F.
    Parry, S.
    Pratt, L.C.
    Sherry, N.J.
    Sterle, G.
    Troeth, J.M.
    Wong, P.
    Wortley, D.

    * denotes teller

    Question negatived.
  2. Ann O'Nymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    Nice. Thanks. Analyzing it would help understanding the various opinions.
  3. Hombre Moderator Skandinaviska

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    We need these dox. If it's good enough to be handed to the senate of Australia, imagine where else it would come in handy.

  4. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    I don't know if these are all dox, but some of the letters filed to senate are available here:
    Infinite Complacency: The Letters filed to Senate
  5. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    How is that relevant to their tax exempt status? The only question should be whether the Church of Scientology provides a public benefit that warrants it to be supported by every tax payer in the country. The intentions of Scientologists are imho entirely irrelevant. We have to look at what they actually do not what they think or believe.
  6. Hombre Moderator Skandinaviska

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    Hmm, I was expecting a political package of awesome ._.

    thanks for link though.
  7. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    They seem to be saying that Xenophon has the right project but the wrong tool.
  8. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    It is not religious persecution to look at the tax exempt status of an organization. It should be of no relevance to the charitable status of that organization if the organization in question is religious in nature or not. Just because the organization holds up an irrational (=religious) belief system and describes itself as religious does not make it charitable at the same time.

    irrelevant ad hominem argument

    It is irrelevant whether CoS is a religious organization or not.

    No, it does not threaten the freedom of religion in any way, if organizations that are not charitable, because they provide no significant public benefit, but are actually more detrimental to society, pay their taxes.

    Right, any organization that engages in such acts described on the basis of their organizational policies should also not enjoy tax exemption. Islam itself isn't a monolithic organization such as the Church of Scientology. It is a belief system. Islamic terror organizations such as al quaida are not tax exempt either.

    They don't have to be tax exempt to conduct themselves as a religion.
  9. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    Ludwig's comments make good sense to me. The wording of the terms of reference was too broad, given that there will be/have been enquiries and public consultation on the point. I trust it wasn't Labor colleagues who pushed for the broader wording? That would be frustrating beyond belief.

    Brown made a mess of it by referring to the Exclusive Brethren. Shame. I hope it wasn't the Greens who argued for the widened wording of the terms of reference. His second mess was carrying on about Hubbards crazy ideas. He made it about religious belief.

    Abetz says the issue is "how much can you in fact prevent people from voluntarily allowing themselves to be brainwashed on a particular issue in a particular area? That is the issue that we have confronted."

    We criminalise some actions by employers in workplace law - even where the employee consents - to prevent the exploitation of workers. Much of what needs addressing with Scientology relates to the workplace. Scientology staff would be far better off if there were no "sec checking" and so they felt free to think thoughts critical of, or contrary to the command intention of, the CoS management.

    Thanks to whoever provided the following info recently. In the US it's already illegal to submit employees voluntarily or otherwise to lie detector use.

    Polygraph Protection Act of 1988

    and here's a text-searchable link: Employee Polygraph Protection - EPP - 29 U.S. Code Chapter 22

    Eric Abetz appears to have formed a view without actually understanding how Scientology goes about controlling the thoughts of its staff. It's not surprising because there hasn't been an inquiry and he doesn't "get" how creative one may need to be to address the wrongs.

    Milne - wow. Perfection.

    Bernardi - I'm going to ignore the hypocrisy argument as irrelevant posturing. Religious persecution - we need to address this. Time to wheel out the Christian (and other religious) leaders.

    His first example shows he doesn't grasp the distinction between belief and behaviour:

    He's all over the place, logically, which Nick picked up on.

    Nick - Mag-fucking-nificent.
  10. EyeOnSci Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010


    Apologies for the quoted quotes not showing up.
  11. eddieVroom Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    IIRC, in the US, Senators can read documents into the Congressional Record whenever the mike is open and no other business is taking place. Does the Australian Senate have a similar practice?
  12. Anonymous Member

    Re: Transcript: Senate March 11, 2010

    I like how they compare blood transfusion and the Jehova Withness with what Scientology do with mentally ill people. Sure you have the right to hurt yourself, but as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else. Stopping your meds when you're schizophrenic can make you go unstable and go the jeremy perkins way.

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