Xenophon vows to pursue 'cults'
The Age, Melbourne
March 13, 2010
Nick Xenophon will re-write and re-submit his motion for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology and similar organisations after the South Australian senator declared himself a “stubborn bastard” who would not give up on cult victims.
Both major parties voted to defeat Senator Xenophon's motion last Thursday to inquire into introducing a public benefit test before religions could claim a tax exemption.
But he said he had been encouraged by conversations with some Coalition MPs since the vote to believe they might support a differently worded motion.
Addressing a conference of cult survivors in Brisbane today, Senator Xenophon said the new motion might include a push for police to take criminal action against cults.
Under this provision, cult leaders could be prosecuted for assault for causing psychological harm to their adherents.
He was also attracted to using the Trade Practices Act to prosecute groups for false and misleading conduct if they wrongly claimed to provide therapeutic benefits to their devotees.
“I won't abandon (cult survivors) even though Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott want to. Trying to look away won't make this go away,” Senator Xenophon told the conference.
Senator Xenophon said that he was a member of the Greek Orthodox church, and was certainly not opposed to religion or the freedom of religious belief: “It's not about belief, it's about behaviour,” he said.
“A number of my (Coalition Senate) colleagues have privately spoken to me to say they are sympathetic with my position,” he told The Age.
“I think it gives me hope that it's not over, that there is still some real hope for some sort of inquiry."
The conference has heard a number of heart-rending stories from different religion-based and therapeutic cults. Brisbane Christian Fellowship survivor Helen Pomery told of how the church's leader, Victor Hall, and his acolytes, “the headship”, had systematically separated her from her husband and two of her children. She has not seen them for nine years.
Another man who enrolled in the northern NSW cult, “Personal Mastery Course”, also known as Universal Knowledge and Life Integration Programs, was required to run 10km every day, or 20km for punishment, to meditate, adopt a strict vegan diet and undergo bizarre punishments and rituals for a year.
He narrowly escaped with his family intact, but is now being sued for defamation by the cult leader, Natasha Lakaev simply for “telling the truth,” he said.
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