Senate rejects formal Scientology inquiry
ABC Radio National - PM
March 18, 2010
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Independent Nick Xenophon has failed again to gain the numbers to set up a Senate inquiry into the Church of Scientology.
The Senator says he'll push for a third time when Parliament resumes in May.
The Government says an inquiry isn't appropriate forum to investigate claims of criminality and coerced abortions, but it wants to talk with the Senator about how the claims can be examined.
And the Opposition's urged the fair work ombudsman to open an investigation into the Church's employment practices.
From Canberra, Sabra Lane reports.
SABRA LANE: Until today, publicly at least, Senator Xenophon's call for an inquiry into the Church of Scientology has been backed only by the Greens.
Today, as Defence Force personnel rehearsed their welcome for the US President out the front of Parliament (**big band plays**) former members of the Church gathered, to support Nick Xenophon's stance.
And interestingly, two Coalition senators and Labor MP Jodie Campbell came out of Parliament, to talk with them.
JODIE CAMPBELL: You know I'm really proud of these wonderful people for coming out and telling their story. They've had a really, really rough time and I think they are the courageous ones for being here this morning.
SABRA LANE: Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and his colleague Nigel Scullion.
BARNABY JOYCE: When someone's making your life difficult that's not a crime it's once they are actually coercing you to doing things that are illegal, that's the issue.
NIGEL SCULLION: Certainly their stories have made a significant impact on me and anybody who listens to their stories would have equal concerns.
SABRA LANE: Will you be voting for it today?
NIGEL SCULLION: No I won't be voting for it today.
SABRA LANE: The Senator says there was no point in voting for it, as he knew there wouldn't be majority support and Senator Xenophon understood this push was doomed.
NICK XENOPHON: It won't happen this time but I believe it will happen eventually.
SABRA LANE: A short time later inside the Senate chamber, the Senator said he would not let this issue go.
NICK XENOPHON: This is not about religious belief. This is not about belief systems, this is about behaviour; there is a fundamental difference.
These are Australians who have been treated horrendously without recourse to justice, without recourse even to tell their stories. The time has come for them to tell their stories safely and we, as legislators, to look at some fundamental reforms so that people can be treated decently.
If this vote goes down I'll be talking about it again in the very next sitting week after the break. This issue won't go away.
SABRA LANE: The Senator has repeatedly raised allegations in Parliament of criminality, embezzlement, coerced abortions and underpayment of church workers.
CHRIS EVANS: The Government won't be supporting this particular proposal by Senator Xenophon.
SABRA LANE: The Government's leader in the Senate, Chris Evans.
CHRIS EVANS: I don't think this is the answer. I'm certainly on a personal level prepared to engage in how we might have a better answer because the issue of the Exclusive Brethren trouble me; this troubles me.
SABRA LANE: Senator Evans says he thinks the claims should be examined, in some other way.
CHRIS EVANS: I am personally open to trying to assist Senator Xenophon find a way through on this. I think we have dealt with over the years in Australia real difficulties in tackling activities of sects or religion that perhaps have too much control over their members or are organisations.
Their claims about the Exclusive Brethren weren't the first; the Church of Scientology won't be the last. There have been a range of sects over the year where there's been concerns about the way they've related to their members and the way they've operated. I think that is of public concern and I think we do need to work out how we deal with those more properly.
SABRA LANE: The Opposition's Deputy Leader in the Senate, Eric Abetz.
ERIC ABETZ: We will not be supporting the motion. For somebody who is I suppose about as anti-abortion as one can be, for me, this is a very painful and concerning topic, because I don't like abortions full stop, let alone coercive ones.
SABRA LANE: The Senator's met a number of former church members and believes there are already appropriate bodies to investigate their claims and pointedly today, he asked for an investigation into the church's workplace practices.
ERIC ABETZ: We do have a fair work ombudsman in this country who has the power, on the basis of a complaint, to examine; indeed off his own volition the ombudsman could undertake an examination. And I make that public call today for the fair work ombudsman to follow up and I'll also give him notice that at Senate Estimates in May, I'll be asking the fair work ombudsman as to what he has done in relation to this matter.
SABRA LANE: The inquiry motion was defeated.
VOICEOVER: The result of the position is six ayes and 33 nos.
SABRA LANE: But Senator Xenophon says it's not over.
NICK XENOPHON: I think that the language of the Government has changed in relation to this and I undertake here and now to engage with Senator Evans and other members of the Government to see if there is a way forward so that these legitimate grievances can be dealt with so that people have a voice and people can actually get some justice.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Independent Nick Xenophon ending that report by Sabra Lane.
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