Scientology compares itself to the Salvation Army in Senate inquiry
June 29, 2010
THE Church of Scientology has compared itself to The Salvation Army, while defending its benefit to the community in a Senate inquiry.
The organisation was scrutinised by an inquiry into legislation proposed by independent senator Nick Xenophon, which would require religious groups to prove what public benefit they provide, before getting tax breaks.
Its representative, Virginia Stewart, told the committee its members lent a hand in times of disaster and promoted drug-free messages.
"The church believes the proposed bill is inherently flawed and puts at risk the financial future of charities and religions in Australia," she said.
But a Church of Scientology officer from New Zealand, Mike Ferris, told the inquiry that a public interest test in his country had done no harm.
Scientology has charitable status in New Zealand, where the Charity Commission of New Zealand was established in 2005.
It demands charities clear a public benefit test, and makes them hand over financial statements, which are available publicly online.
Mr Ferris said he believed the commission had been fair to the Church of Scientology.
"I think the New Zealand Charities Commission has treated us fairly," he said.
"I think it's a fair process."
The inquiry also heard from ex-Scientologists who went public with their shocking experiences earlier this year, when Senator Xenophon twice failed in efforts to have an inquiry into abuse allegations.
Among them was James Anderson, who claims he and his wife spent up to $1.2 million on Scientology materials, and Janette Vonthehoff, who says she was coerced into having abortions, and worked long hours for the organisation under duress.
Both argued the organisation should not get tax-free status, because it was completely self-serving, and provided no benefit to taxpayers.
Mr Ferris compared the glare on Scientology to that previously directed at The Salvation Army.
"They weren't welcome here in Australia, they weren't welcome in New Zealand in the early 19th century because of their view against alcohol," he said.
"They were beaten up and they were persecuted, so where do you go?"
Mr Ferris was asked why the records on the website of his country's charity commission showed the organisation went from an income of $2.6 million in 2007, to $374,000 in 2008.
"I think that drop in income, was actually, from memory, was the exchange rate drop, absolutely," he said, but later admitted he wasn't certain.
The Church of Scientology also committed to handing over its books to the committee for further scrutiny.
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