Bob Brown’s vendetta against the Exclusive Brethren

The wacky Christian sect the Exclusive Brethren has been in the stocks this week. Some of the attacks, like today’s story in The Age about covering up child abuse, are fair criticism – even if offences by someone who has already been thrown out of the Brethren and convicted of his crimes are hardly front page lead story material.

But other stories reflect as badly on those generating the news as on the Brethren – if not more so. They document attempts by Greens Senator Bob Brown to use instruments of the state to get at a religion he does not like.

Brown started this off with (another) attempt to have a Senate inquiry into the Brethren. Their offence? They had written to the Attorney-General proposing changes to family law. These were not sensible suggestions and as The Age reported:

Mr Ruddock’s response to the Brethren’s approach gave them little joy. The Government’s changes would “emphasise the rights of the child and the right of the child to know both their parents,” he wrote.

Ministers receive lots of letters with crackpot ideas (I used to have to coordinate responses to some of them). But the remedy is not punishing their senders by hauling them before Senate inquiries. It is polite letters explaining why the government cannot take up their proposals. Every citizen has a right to put their views to government without harassment.

Not content with calling for a Senate inquiry, Brown followed up later in the week by demanding the government investigate the Brethren setting up a tyre business to help fund their schools.

The franchise could be in breach of federal regulations requiring private schools to be non-profit entities to receive funding, Greens leader Bob Brown said.

This allegation is clearly without substance. How can a school be run for profit if it needs cross-subsidy from a tyre business? Will Brown be demanding an investigation into every fund-raising school fete? Again, it is just harassment.

You’d think Bob Brown would be sensitive to this kind of abuse of process. After all, when timber firm Gunns used defamation proceedings against their political opponents, including Brown, he responded by saying:

This is a massive assault on free speech in our country. It is an effort US style and with Soviet connotations to silence those people who would speak up in defence of Tasmania’s growth forests, their wildlife and this nation’s heritage.

But as we learned from the case of poor Mrs Schweitzer in the wheelie bin, experience of persecution oneself does not necessarily lead to more sensitivity to the position of others.

17 Responses to “Bob Brown’s vendetta against the Exclusive Brethren

  • 1
    derrida derider
    December 30th, 2006 18:53

    Yeah, Bob Brown does seem to be going over the top. But I think he’s wary of the NZ experience with the Brethren’s political tactics.

  • 2
    Yobbo
    December 30th, 2006 19:14

    Going over the top? The man is a crackpot and always has been.

  • 3
    Joe Bloggs
    December 30th, 2006 20:27

    Brown is a smart operator though

  • 4
    Andrew Bartlett
    December 31st, 2006 00:19

    He’s certainly not a crackpot (which doesn’t mean I agree with all his ideas). He is a smart politician. I don’t like the Exclusive Brethren much at all, but I agree this constant public pursuit and targetting of the EB is akin to a vendetta. I believe it is a conscious tactic, with the aim of (a) positioning himself as an uncompromising opponents of right wing religious fundamentalism, and (b) signalling that the Greens will remorsely attack back at any group who attacks them (which in this case helps to reinforce (a)).

    As the post suggests, there has already been one attempt to set up a Senate inquiry targetted at the EB, which was opposed by every other party in the Senate. Of course, the Coalition are not averse at seeking to public discredit and target groups they perceive as their opponents, as do state Labor governments (and they have a far greater array weapons at their disposal to do so). I don’t like it when the big parties do it (through cutting funding, repeated attacks in Parliament and through the media, changing laws to make life harder, etc) and I don’t think it’s behaviour smaller parties should be emulating.

    This is not to discount that the EB (or some members of it) have also very aggressively sought to smear their opponents (incl Greens) in a few different locations now, as well as trying to disguise their involvement in some instances – hence this sort of response by the Greens. One begets another I guess, but I don’t think that’s any reason for the rest of the world to get dragged into it.

  • 5
    Sinclair Davidson
    December 31st, 2006 09:02

    I f anything there should be an investigation into the Greens. The Australian Electoral Commission have been very slack. According to the (2001) Candidate Survey (I haven’t had a chnace to look at the 2004 one yet) many Greens candidates have very unusual views – not related to the environment, indeed many didn’t nominate the environment as the most pressing issue facing Australia. They have another agenda. Okay, so nobody is surprised they are watermelons. But Senator Brown once described the Greens as being a truly international party. So who are their offshore partners, who controls this ‘international party’, where do there funds come from, who are faceless (wo)men directing the behaviour of elected Australian politicians?

    This remarkable comment has managed to pass without any scrutiny – there maybe an innocent explanation, but Brown should have to explain himself.

  • 6
    Paul Litterick
    December 31st, 2006 11:16

    Extraordinary – the Exclusive Brethren conduct a devious smear campaign against Senator Brown’s party, while providing support for John Howard, but Senator Brown is blamed.

    The same process is happening here in New Zealand – lots of snorting about “religious freedom” while the people who revealed the links between the National Party and the Exclusive Brethren are subjected to all sorts of accusations.

  • 7
    Andrew Norton
    December 31st, 2006 11:34

    Paul – People are free to criticise the Exclusive Brethren as much as they like. The only issue is whether the instruments of the state should be turned against them. Except in the case of specific law breaking, in my view they should not, and that and his hypocrisy are my only criticisms of Brown (on this issue, anyway).

  • 8
    Peter
    January 1st, 2007 06:39

    I am unsympathetic to the Exclusive Brethrens to be honest.

    Advocating particular defence policies when they will not lift a finger to defend Australia. Telling people who to vote for when their position has been not to vote – on the basis that worldly governments are irrelevant! Hypocrites!!

    Attacking the Greens as a roundabout way of promoting their darlings like Don Brash, Opposition Leader of New Zealand, who has just had a frightening fall from where he was to kiwi fruit orchardist – all in 2 weeks!

    Bob Brown is entitled to defend himself from this hypocrisy by whatever means. Admittedly though it is hard to discredit a wacky religion that has itself enjoyed no credibility for at least 50 years.

    I believe Liberals, Country, Labour – the whole lot should condemn these Exclusives who were the instigators of a great perversion of the political process.

  • 9
    Francis Xavier Holden
    January 2nd, 2007 22:04

    The Exclusive Bretheren couldn’t pass a citizenship test on their attitudes to women, children and tolerance of other lifestyles and from my information, tax dodging. Bob Brown is just doing good politics – eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

  • 10
    Insider
    March 10th, 2007 00:24

    Certainly don’t agree with much that any politician sprouts, including Bob Brown. But with this cult he can bag them as much as he wants; they are evil, liars, family-wreckers, the list goes on. And a certain local authority has been hoodwinked into granting them special rating exemptions. Stamp them out for good……….

  • 11
    Peter
    November 17th, 2007 17:01

    It still goes on. Senator Bob Brown is reporting more anti Green pamphlets that look awfully like Exclusive Brethren involvement.

    Does anybody know?

  • 12
    Rebekah
    November 28th, 2007 18:07

    If the Exclusive Brethren can campaign against certain parties during election time, am I allowed to campaign against the Exclusive Brethren? Next election, can I letterbox Bennelong to warn them of the Brethren and their past sneaky Bennelong campaigns? Somehow, I bet the instruments of the state would get turned against me if I did.

  • 13
    Jamie Anderson
    December 3rd, 2007 09:30

    I like Andrew Bartlett’s qualifier ” … the EB (or some members of it)… “, based on my personal experience with some members of the EB in Tasmania who are private about their religion, don’t seek to influence non-believers – they are of an age range where their children are all adult – and speak out against bible-bashers. Even though some EB people, perhaps many, may need investigating I liken some responses to labelling all Muslims as dangerous.

  • 14
    Peter
    December 16th, 2007 18:56

    I hope that revenge will not be long in coming, now that John Howard is safely out of the way. keep us informed.

  • 15
    Ruth
    February 27th, 2008 08:12

    I take tha point about whether an instrument of the state should be used in this case – I think not.

    But, it must be noted that the EB are quite horrific in what they do. Children are stolen from their parents, wives removed from husbands, sibblings forced apart, etc for crimes against the system such as: TV watching, drinking tea with a non-member, not allowing EB leaders to see your business acounts or last will and testament. If you disagree with anything that a leader says, then you will lose your home, business, family, friends and your entire social network – remember, a member has no social contact or business link with a non-member.

    It could be argued that one does not HAVE to join or can just leave. Not so. People don’t join, they are born into it. And free to leave? Yes, but the price is too high for most. I chose not to leave but was expelled anyway. I lost nearly all that I had: friends, family, home, job. BUT! I now enjoy the freedom to be honest. The EB is awesome training ground for a deceiptful mind.

    Trust me, I KNOW!

    Something needs to be done to reduce (or stop) the widespread abuse that is comitted by the EB, they will not help themselves while the cult is this profitable, and will attack any who threat their finance, existence or secrecy. Mr Brown did not succeed with his chosen method, but a method that works needs to be found and soon.

    Ruth

  • 16
    Joanne Walsh
    October 27th, 2008 13:54

    What kind of control freak idea interferes with children’s rights to know their blood ties and to make spontaneous moves to do so, when the rational need arises? Even adopted children have the right to trace their blood family.The Exclusive Brethren seem cruel to me. If freedom of choice is corrupted then I am sure it would cause a great deal of stress, trapping families to maddening and saddening extremes. Next they will be locking people up for no reason, tapping phones, watching accounts, interfering with honest schooling opportunities and preventing required medical treatment. Murderous.

  • 17
    Joanne Walsh
    October 27th, 2008 13:55

    You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them without knowing the secret handshake.