TONY EASTLEY: Australia's Defence Department has spent thousands of dollars on professional development courses run by an organisation that in some countries is registered on a list of possible cults.
At least $12,000 has been spent by the Department on courses run by the controversial group, Landmark Education, which the French Parliament has linked to cultish behaviour.
Landmark Education has also been accused of brainwashing by some people in the mental health fraternity.
The Department is unable to say how many individuals have attended the courses, and it concedes that it doesn't keep close tabs on all of its professional development spending.
This report from AM's Daniel Hoare.
DANIEL HOARE: Landmark Education isn't everyone's cup of tea and a quick trawl of the internet will highlight any number of highly-charged, polarised views of the group's approach.
Landmark's flagship course, the Landmark Forum, offers personal development that differs from mainstream teaching.
A video on the website gives a taste of the Landmark approach.
EXTRACT FROM VIDEO:
FEMALE VOICE: Consider that you're effectiveness and your level of satisfaction is not a function of what you are doing or even the way that you are doing what you are doing.
MALE VOICE: We know what we know and we know what we don't know. There is a whole nother domain. It's out here. It's what we don't know and don't even know that we don't know.
DANIEL HOARE: More than a million people have attended Landmark Education courses across the world.
And there are many who swear by the changes it's made to their lives.
FEMALE LANDMARK CLIENT: After the Landmark Forum, I was just open with people and could let them in to who I really was.
DANIEL HOARE: Among those who've attended Landmark courses are some of Australia's Defence Force personnel and AM can now reveal that they were sent to Australian-based courses compliments of the taxpayer.
Investigations have established that the Defence Department has spent at least $12,270 of public money sending employees to Landmark courses.
The Defence Department wasn't able to establish whether that is all that was spent on Landmark courses, but it says there doesn't appear to be any further payments to the group since 2004.
In a statement, it says:
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT: A search of Defence records does not indicate exactly how many individuals attended courses with this training provider, however it is believed it was a small number of individuals.
DANIEL HOARE: And furthermore.
EXTRACT FROM DEFENCE DEPARTMENT STATEMENT: Defence has been unable to determine individual reasons for why groups within Defence choose this training provider.
DANIEL HOARE: The Defence Department says it's inappropriate to discuss whether Landmark Education is an accredited training provider. And it won't be drawn on whether there's any truth to claims the group engages in techniques that involve brainwashing.
In the mid 1990s, Landmark Education was listed among about 200 groups in France that have cult-like features.
And the group's widespread use of unpaid labour has attracted the attention of the US and French governments.
But Landmark's US-based spokeswoman Deborah Beroset says the group's reputation has been unfairly tarnished.
DEBORAH BEROSET: We are used by hundreds of companies and government agencies around the world.
DANIEL HOARE: There are some who refer to Landmark as a cult. What is your response to those who do say that Landmark is a cult?
DEBORAH BEROSET: Well, that's absolutely not the case. What happened in France is that a commission established by the French Parliament issued a report in which they listed almost 200 organisations as being either possible cults or potential - having cult-like aspects. We were never contacted and were inappropriately included in that list.
DANIEL HOARE: There have been some damning allegations by mental health experts about the methods used by Landmark. They say it is tantamount to brainwashing. What is your response to that?
DEBORAH BEROSET: Well, there is absolutely no credence to that whatsoever.
TONY EASTLEY: Landmark Education spokeswoman Deborah Beroset ending that report from AM's Daniel Hoare.