A senate inquiry into the Church of Scientology will not go ahead after the Federal Government told the church it believed the Tax Office and police were the most appropriate authorities to investigate any complaints.
A staff member for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Chris Evans, has emailed Scientologists who wrote to Senator Evans after an independent senator, Nick Xenophon, made a series of explosive allegations in the Senate last month.
The email, from Hayden Falconer, said it would be inappropriate to conduct an inquiry into a private, and in this case, religious organisation. He noted there was no precedent for the Senate to conduct such a targeted inquiry.
"It is not the role of the Parliament to inquire into the tax status of a particular organisation or individual, or to investigate criminal matters," the email says. "The role of the Senate is to inquire into issues of public policy and public administration."
The Opposition cited similar arguments in its rejection of an inquiry. Senator Xenophon will consequently lack the numbers to establish the inquiry.
But Senator Xenophon was undeterred. Yesterday he said he would call for a vote in February for an inquiry and did not accept the Government's argument. "That's a cop out. The matters for police will quite rightly go to the police, but there are matters there that relate to civil law and issues of law reform in terms of the tax-free status," he said.
"If the major parties think that this is an issue that will go away, then they're kidding themselves."
Last month Senator Xenophon tabled letters from several former Scientologists alleging that the church was guilty of coercing abortions, forced labour, obstructing justice and covering up child abuse. Life for Scientology staff, former members wrote, featured unbearable hours, constant punishments, lack of access to medical care, and sometimes physical abuse and imprisonment.
The vice-president of the Church of Scientology International, Robert Adams, said every allegation tabled in Parliament by Senator Xenophon was "meritless", and many had been investigated and dismissed earlier by independent authorities.
"One way to measure that is how law enforcement responds to any of these allegations. There has been no interest because there has been no evidence. Apostates are not credible witnesses, like former spouses or employees - they are trying to find a reason why they departed," Mr Adams said.