Tuesday, October 16, 2007

POLITICS: Riding the Brethren Express ...

Last year, Greens Senator Bob Brown called for a Senate inquiry into the political funding and other activities of the tiny Exclusive Brethren sect. During a passionate debate, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz issued this warning to fellow Senators in mid-August 2006:
When the leader of a political party ... starts scapegoating religious minorities, the alarm bells of history should be ringing loud and clear.
Presumably Abetz was referring to Adolf Hitler and Jews. Or was that Billy Hughes and Catholics? Or John Howard and Muslims? Or Kevin Andrews and Sudanese Seventh Day Adventists? Who knows.

Last night, Four Corners wasn’t so much about persecuting religious minorities. Rather, it reported on how a small secretive sect with a membership of hardly 14,000 are able to gain access to government ministers and secure the kinds of legislative and policy exemptions other minorities (and indeed the majority of us) can only dream of – from special amendments in Work Choices regulations through to exemptions from teaching computing in schools.

What made last night’s episode so different was that current Brethren members spoke on camera. Their body language was even less convincing than their words. At the same time, the emphasis on the Brethren’s views on sexual morality deflected from their special treatment by conservative governments and their ‘brown paper bag’ political funding methods.

The program showed some of the campaign methos used by the Brethren, some of them potentially in breach of Australian, New Zealand and US electoral laws. The main Australian beneficiary of Brethren generosity was the very government happy to provide the Brethren with exemptions and concessions.

It was also interesting to note that senior Brethren leaders have long been admirers of John Howard, going back to his era as treasurer in the Fraser government:
The Brethren see John Howard basically as their hero. I mean he's, I know John Hales backed him from the 1970s when he was treasurer he was seen as the ideal candidate for prime ministership long before he was even prime minister.
One can only wonder how many Bennelong Liberal Party campaigns have received funding from the Brethren Express.

New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager blew the whistle on Brethren involvement in the 2005 New Zealand election. Yet in Australia, Brethren involvement in Liberal Party campaigns went back at the very latest to John Hewson’s 1993 Fightback! campaign. Not to mention the Brethren taking out a full-page advertisement in the New Yok Times in support of a Republican candidate.

The thing that really makes me pusstorf (as I’d say if I was a Kiwi) is that the Howard government is quite happy to demonise less resourced and organised minorities, accusing them of failure to integrate and adopt Australian values. Clearly what Sudanese refugees need to do is start breaching electoral laws and hand money to the Liberal Party. Preferably in paper bags.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf


Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,

I find your blog very insightful. However, before you impugn my lovely New Zealand accent, you should be aware that Nicky Hager exposed the Brethren's involvement in the 2005 general election. 2005. Not 1995.

Irfan Yusuf said...

woops. thenks for kurriktung may.