Questions raised over Narconon lease on historic building
Sep 30, 2008
The Mental Health Council of Australia has strongly criticised Victoria's national parks authority for leasing a historic public building rent free to a drug treatment service connected to Scientology.
The council's chief executive says a group with secret treatment methods should not be able to use a public asset at a time when Australia is desperate for community treatment centres.
But Narconon, which follows the precepts of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, says it is just as entitled to lease O'Shannassy Lodge as any other group and Parks Victoria says this type of lease is crucial to keep maintenance costs down on its many properties.
In 1954 The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh took a break from their long royal tour and stayed at O'Shannassy Lodge in the Yarra Ranges east of Melbourne.
The grand home had originally been built to house engineers working on a nearby dam and was later converted into a luxury retreat for public servants.
But its most recent tenant has been Narconon.
Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive David Crosbie says Narconon operates in various parts of the world and has links to the Church of Scientology.
He says those links are unclear but it has been suggested to him that Narconon draws on the teachings of L Ron Hubbard and is used to recruit people to Scientology.
Mr Crosbie says he does not fully understand Narconon's treatment methods because they have not been subject to review or publicly scrutinised.
"But we understand there's a range of approaches including saunas and various kinds of purges that participants take and you know a range of other sort of interventions, some of which may have some benefit," he said.
"But the program itself has not been independently evaluated and tends to avoid public scrutiny, which creates some concern amongst those of us who have worked in treating people who have mental health and alcohol and drug problems."
Mr Crosbie believes that at a time when Australia is short of community drug treatment centres it is inappropriate that a group whose methods he believes are not open to scrutiny is able to lease a public asset rent free.
"We should be allowing people to, in a sense, tender for it or provide some kind of evidence that what they're going to do with that property will benefit the community and will the benefit the people who participate in the programs involved," he said.
"I don't think you can lock away a resource that's owned by taxpayers or give it off to one individual group when we don't know what benefit that group is offering back."
Nerida James is a naturopathic physician, a Scientologist and the president of Narconon Australia.
She says the group has every right to lease O'Shannassy Lodge and that its methods are open to public scrutiny.
"Narconon uses the works of L Ron Hubbard. It's not a Church of Scientology run organisation," she said.
"We have a withdrawal method which uses high doses of vitamins and minerals which really help to minimise the withdrawal symptoms.
"Then they do a sauna detox program in a very low heat sauna, using vitamins to open up the fat tissue to release the chemicals out.
"And after that there's a series of counselling and courses that are based on improving the students' ability to communicate and improve their ethics and personal integrity and their morals so that they can come back into society as a productive member of society.
"I know it's been pushed by the media that we're a front group for the Church of Scientology, but I can tell you now, not even 1 per cent of the Narconon graduates go on to become Scientologists."
Nerida James says Narconon paid about $166,000 for the lease of O'Shannassy Lodge and has spent as much as $70,000 annually to maintain and improve the buildings.
"We've had to repaint and replace the carpets and replace guttering," she said.
"It's surrounded by 12 acres of English gardens and we have two estate managers and they are kept full time keeping the property looking as beautiful as it does."
Ms James says Narconon is now leasing O'Shannassy Lodge month to month and is in ongoing negotiations with Parks Victoria as to its long-term tenancy.
Parks Victoria was unavailable for comment.
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