The Brumby Government has banned a group linked to the Church of Scientology from Victoria's public schools after it sponsored an art prize.
The Government acted after learning from the Herald Sun that thousands of dollars of taxpayers' money was used to back a school art prize run by the Scientology-sponsored Youth for Human Rights. It follows a similar move by the NSW Government last week.
Victorian public authority South East Water was the major sponsor of a Year 9 art competition organised by YHR, which rates Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard as "a famous human rights leader".
Last year's winner was a South Oakleigh Secondary College student. He and his mum were flown to New York to visit the United Nations.
After being alerted, Education Minister Bronwyn Pike directed her department to warn principals to bar YHR material in schools.
"Scientology is not on the list of religions for instruction in government schools," said an official memo.
South Oakleigh SC principal Deborah Locco said yesterday that the school had been unaware of YHR's link to Scientology and had withdrawn student entries from this year's art competition.
"We'll make sure we don't get caught up with it again," she said.
A South East Water spokesman yesterday refused to disclose how much was spent on the competition.
"A former employee sponsored an art prize with Youth for Human Rights," he said.
The former employee is Kate Oxenbould, mentioned on a YHR website as presenting the 2008 art award on behalf of South East Water.
She is the daughter of Joanne Oxenbould, an ex-Scientologist who founded the YHR art contest in Victoria.
Joanne Oxenbould said her daughter had helped her with the contest and South East Water's sponsorship may have been a few thousand dollars.
She said: "Youth for Human Rights is nothing to do with Scientology. Scientology is one of the sponsors, that's all."
The only indication on YHR's website of the connection to Scientology is acknowledgment of a "generous grant" from the church.
PM Kevin Rudd expressed concerns about Scientology after independent senator Nick Xenophon accused it under parliamentary privilege of extortion, forced abortion and financial coercion - claims strongly denied by the church.