Friday 10 April 2015

Australia: Xenophon back in the fray

Senator Nick Xenophon has called on Australia's charity regulators to investigate Scientology in the wake allegations set out in Alex Gibney's bombshell documentary on the movement.

The shockwaves created by Alex Gibney's documentary on Scientology, Going Clear, have reached Down Under.

More than five years after first denouncing Scientology's activities in Australia, independent Senator Nick Xenophon has returned to the fray, calling on the authorities to investigate Scientology's charitable status.

In a letter to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), Senator Xenophon said he was prompted to write by the allegations contained in Gibney's documentary, in which he says Scientology:
  • tortures its members;
  • has stolen US Government documents;
  • requires current members to cut ties with friends and families who quit the movement (disconnection);
“The Church of Scientology is a global organisation with common rules that apply to all of its branches,” he continued. “I am deeply concerned about the potentially wide-reaching and harmful influence this organisation may have on its Australian branches...

“I therefore request that a review is conducted into the charitable status of the Church of Scientology and any associated entities in Australia as a matter of urgency,” Senator Xenophon said.

Gibney's documentary goes into detail about the violence meted about by Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, and the humiliating punishments he is still inflicting on those who are – nominally at least – his most senior lieutenants.1

His interview subjects include Mark Rathbun and Mike Rinder, two of the movement's most senior former executives, both of whom have witnessed Miscavige's violence, as well as being on the receiving end.

The allegations of the theft of government documents appears to be a reference to Operation Snow White, back in the 1970s. Those activities, when they were finally uncovered, led to FBI raids of Scientology premises in 1977 and the conviction of 11 senior members – including founder L.Ron Hubbard's own wife, Mary Sue – a few years later.

And Scientology's practice of disconnection – forcing its members to break off contact with anyone deemed an enemy of the movement – has been well-documented in the media.2

Violence at the top, espionage and Scientology's disconnection policy: on the face of it, there is nothing her that a seasoned Scientology watcher did not already know about.

And having stood up in Australia's Senate in November 2009 to denounce abuses committed by Scientology that were at least as serious, if not worse, the issues he is raising now cannot be new to Senator Xenophon.

But the force of Gibney's documentary is such that it has become a major media event. And as Tony Ortega recently pointed out over at The Underground Bunker it has prompted more journalists to start asking tougher questions of John Travolta and Tom Cruise, the two celebrity members Gibney zooms in on in his film.3

Perhaps the senator thought now was a good time to revive the campaign he started in 2009.

“Scientology is not a religious organisation,” he told the Senate at the time. “It is a criminal organisation that hides behind its so-called religious beliefs. What you believe does not mean you are not accountable for how you behave.”

In his letter to the ACNC, Senator Xenophon mentioned that Scientology's organisations in Australia were registered as charities for the purpose of “advance religion”. Clearly he doesn't see it that way.

Vicki Dunstan, Scientology's president in Australia, has responded to the senator's latest initiative in comments to the Australian media.

“I am afraid he has bought into the propaganda and continues to try the Church of Scientology in the media and hold a kangaroo court,’’ she said.

“Only now he is using a Hollywood work of fiction as his source of disinformation about the church, to resurrect his old witch-hunt and waste taxpayer funds on this pointless exercise.’’

For the moment, all the ACNC has done is acknowledged receipt of the letter: it will be a while before we know if they actually intend to act on it.

In the meantime, listen to this interview with Senator Xenophon on Australia's Studio 10 programme, in which he sets out his case. As usual, he's done his homework.

In Australia, a group gets charitable status if is recognised as a church. Senator Xenophon suggests that a better test would be the one used by the Charity Commission for England and Wales – that a group should serve the public good. The Charity Commission decided in 1999 that Scientology failed that test.4

And not for the first time, he calls for a government cults watchdog along the lines of France's MIVILUDES. Georges Fenech, when he was still president of MIVILUDES (the inter-ministerial mission for monitoring and fighting cults abuses), met Senator Xenophon during a visit to Australia in 2011.

Start here for a look back at Senator Xenophon's campaign and the letters from former members that prompted him to stand up in the senate and speak out.

And go here for a detailed summary of the letters from former Scientologists that prompted his campaign – letters he subsequently filed with the Senate.


In his letter, Xenophon wrote: “According to the ACNC's website there are 14 organisations that contain the word 'scientology' in their names that are, or have been, registered as charities. Of those 14 organisations, two have had their registration revoked and one has had its registration voluntarily revoked.”

I got 13 when I searched under “Scientology”. Here they are:

Follow the links to the Launceston and Melbourne missions and you learn that both had their charity status revoked because their annual reports were 12 months overdue.

As Xenophon had noted, both had the advancement of religion as their stated purpose.

In his letter, the senator requested an investigation not just of Scientology but of “any associated organisations”. A quick browse of the database shows that that was a wise precaution.

Here are some of the usual suspects.

The Asoociation [sic] for Better Living and Education Inc.? Check. (Shame about the typo, though.) ABLE of course, is an umbrella group for a number of Scientology-rooted organisations, as you can see from this website.

Narconon? Check. The disastrous drug rehab programme based on Hubbard's quack treatment features no less than five times:
The Commission has revoked the licences for three of them; a fourth voluntarily, leaving just one still standing.1

In any case, Australia seems to have woken up to the dangers of the organisation. As Tony Ortega reported in February, campaigners in Warburton, in the state of Victoria, stopped one opening there.

Criminon, Scientology's prison programme, does not feature on the charities list. But Applied Scholastics Western Australia is out there, running its Hubbard-devised reeding-iz-eezee programme.

And so on, and so forth; you get the idea. And no doubt there are more. But why should I have all the fun?

Settle down with cold drink and some munchies, open up your list of Scientology front groups and start punching them into the Commission's search engine.

Only don't go denouncing the horse rescuers or the bulldog breeders just because they put “Second Chance” in their title.
1   For those of you not lucky enough to have seen the documentary yet, Tony Ortega wrote a comprehensive series of article in the run-up to its March 29 HBO premier in the US. Start here for full details of the documentary and Gibney's interview subjects.
2  For a more detailed explanation of disconnection, see “Introduction to Disconnection” elsewhere at this site. For a particularly egregious example, see “The Henderson's Story”. Over at the Underground Bunker, Tony Ortega had returned to this subject again and again: take your pick from this list.
3   His April 8 post, second item: “Reporters asking better questions of Scientology celebrities”.
4   For details of the Charities Commission's decision see here.
5   If you want to know what's wrong with Narconon, have a look at the articles on the subject at this website; or search Tony Ortega's site for the string of lawsuits the organisation is facing in the United States; or look at the comprehensive website on the subject developed by Dave Touretzky and Chris Owen: Narconon Exposed.


  1. Nick Xenophon needs to come to the United States and show us how it is done.


  2. Every country should have a MIVILUDES...

    I wonder if any former victims or any critics of the criminal organisation known as the "church" of $cientology have been followed by private investigators? The revelations from the US are coming hard and fast, and are completely aligned with teh experiences and suspicions of many other people. Using money for PIs on sleazy missions should not be tax exempt. We wonder about Nicole Kidman, the Packer family, etc etc.

  3. Thank you, Jonny.

  4. Actually, I meant to make the point that Xenophon is going great guns at a time when US citizens are being encouraged to write to their Congressmen. Perhaps that's something they should be drawing to the attention of their representatives.

  5. Great job Nick. I will snail mail my state Senators requesting they support him

  6. What can I say, Richelieu, I'm an old-fashioned guy. :-) Actually no: it's just something I've never been able to fix.

    If anyone has any suggestions as to how to fix this, they would be most welcome. One of these days, when I have a moment to spare, I might just move the whole site over to WordPress -- but not any time soon.

  7. OK, gotcha!

    Here’s a good tip— just put black tape over the blinking 12:00 on your VCR.. It’s like it was ever there! ;-)

  8. With great power comes great responsibility. The great power provided by the First AmenhmenIt should come with the great responsibility of bettering the public good. Scientology benefits nobody but their own leadership. It acts as a business (that's being charitable, it really acts more as a mafia) and therefore should be taxed as a business is.

  9. TheHoleDoesNotExist11 April 2015 at 01:17

    This! A thousand times This Thank you

  10. I've just finished reading your piece about Nick Xenophon on your site
    and thought you might like to know a little more about the Launceston,
    Tasmania, church (and I use that word loosely) of scientology. It's
    located in a dingy and dark cheap outer part of the C.B.D. (believe it
    or not they occasionally turn on a light) otherwise it's more like a
    gloomy dungeon. The dimensions of the "church" is on a rough scale of 6x8
    metres. In the nearly three years I've been in Launceston I've seen
    no-one enter the shop apart from the two middle-aged couples that man
    (person?) the place. Somehow I think the 47x expansion seems to have
    missed this cell.

  11. Thank you for the link, Johnny. Some very interesting records on that site.

    Of note, nothing listed for Citizens Commission On Human Rights or CCHR.


  12. Thanks for the update, Kronomex. I expect they're just biding their time, waiting for the right moment for the Next Big Push.

  13. Thanks for the update, Kronomex. I expect they're just biding their time, waiting for the right moment for the Next Big Push.