Wednesday, 21 March 2007
Community Affairs Committee; Reference
That the following matter be referred to the Community Affairs Committee for inquiry and report by 12 June 2007: Allegations that the Exclusive Brethren, including its leadership, may have been involved in:
- breaching Australian Family Court agreements and denying access by ex-Brethren parents to their children;
- ex-communicating family members;
- prohibiting children from their Australian right to a university education;
- banning unions from Exclusive Brethren workplaces;
- discriminating against women in Australia;
- the use of public monies; and
- any related matters.
I seek leave to make a short statement concerning the previous vote.
I do not stand to confess my sins, Mr Deputy President! Concerning the previous vote, the Democrats have the view that, whilst the Exclusive Brethren may be seen to have transgressed some laws or matters that have concerned the Greens, that is a matter for the authorities. We have the view that inquiries into a specific religious movement are not desirable. As the chamber knows, we put a reference at the last sitting which stated our position with regard to these matters.
I seek leave to make a short statement on the same matter.
The motion that was just lost because it was only supported by the Greens was to look into allegations about the Exclusive Brethren and its leadership on a range of social issues, not political issues, to do with discriminating against women, banning unions from Exclusive Brethren workplaces, prohibiting children from their Australian right to university education, the excommunication of family members and the breaching of Family Court of Australia directions. These are all legitimate matters for us all to be concerned about, not of a political nature but of a social nature, and I am surprised that the Greens were not supported.
I seek leave to make a short statement.
I indicate on behalf of the Labor Party that we also opposed the motion. I thought it was going to come on for debate, but we seem to be having the debate after we have defeated the motion—but so be it. I just want to indicate that we also opposed the motion on the basis that we did not think it was an appropriate exercise of the Senate’s powers to inquire into a particular organisation. We had this debate last year. We think the concerns—some of which I share—about any activities of the Exclusive Brethren need to be investigated by the appropriate authorities, pursued in places like the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or through the courts, as has been done by a number of members. We do not think a broad, wide-ranging inquiry into an organisation or their leadership is necessarily the best use of the Senate’s powers. I fear that people like Senator Abetz might well use the precedent in a way that I would not be comfortable with, given the government’s views about organisations that do not support the government view. But I also point out that the motion, in part, says:
Allegations that the Exclusive Brethren, including its leadership, may have been involved in:
… … …
- (g) any related matters.
Really, if it were a motion moved by the government into an environmental organisation, it would be rightly described as a witch hunt. Clearly, it is not a precedent that I would like to see set, and that is why the Labor Party opposes it.