Fed: Bid for Senate inquiry into Scientology fails
2010-03-11 13:24:00
Publication: AAP Political News

By Gabrielle Dunlevy and Bonny Symons-Brown

CANBERRA, March 11 AAP - Labor and the coalition have been accused of choosing to look away from claims of abuse in the Church of
Scientology, by blocking a Senate investigation into the tax-free status of religious groups.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon on Thursday failed to win sufficient support for an inquiry into whether church groups should be subjected to a public benefit test, like that in the UK.

His move was prompted by complaints from former members of the Church of
Scientology, and "hundreds" more allegations since first raising the issue.

Claims of forced abortions, imprisonment in boot camps and separation of families were also aired this week on the ABC's Four Corners program.

Both Labor and the coalition voting against Senator Xenophon's move.

Labor frontbencher Joe Ludwig said a Senate inquiry was unwarranted, as there were already two other inquiries looking into taxation matters, including the tax-free status of religious groups.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the inquiry would turn the Senate into a "de-facto criminal investigations bureau" and worried it would allow disaffected people from all types of groups to air their grievances.

Senator Xenophon later told reporters he had broadened the scope of the proposed inquiry to look at the tax-free status of all religious groups on "good faith" after talks with both parties.

He will next week introduce another motion for an inquiry into specific allegations against Scientology.

Labor and the coalition must explain why they had chosen to "look away" from the issue, Senator Xenophon said after the vote.

"(Prime Minister) Kevin Rudd and (Opposition Leader) Tony Abbott need to explain to the Australian people why they have looked away, why they have walked away from an issue of public importance," he told reporters.

"We need to put this in perspective, the Australian parliament has had inquiries into whether Tasmania should have an AFL football team ... yet they won't have an inquiry into very serious allegations of abuse, of misconduct."

The Australian Greens supported the bid, with leader Bob Brown labelling Scientology a "dangerous cult".

"It's about entrapment of people by sects who take over people's lives, their livelihoods, their families," he said.

Debate on the motion turned nasty when Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi accused the Greens of conducting religious witch-hunts.

"This is the organisation, remember, that wanted the members of the Exclusive Brethren Christian organisation to mark their businesses so people would know who they were," he said.

"The Star of David ... that the Greens wanted to impose."

The symbol was used by the Nazis during the Holocaust as a way of identifying Jews.

Senator Bernardi later withdrew the inference.

AAP gd/rl