Call for inquiry voted down

The Sydney Morning Herald/March 12, 2010

Nick Xenophon'S appeal for a parliamentary inquiry into Scientology collapsed into acrimony yesterday, amid claims it represented an attack on organised religion.

Both the government and opposition voted against holding the inquiry, moved by the South Australian independent, which would have examined the value of giving religious institutions tax exemptions.

The Liberal senator Cory Bernardi turned his ire on the Greens, who supported the inquiry. Senator Bernardi said the Greens were interested in a witch-hunt on organised faith, comparing their hostility to the shadowy religious group the Exclusive Brethren with the Nazi practice of forcing Jews to wear the Star of David.

"This is the organisation, remember, that wanted the members of the Exclusive Brethren Christian organisation to mark their businesses so people would know who they were," Senator Bernardi said.

The Greens leader, Bob Brown, demanded he withdraw the remark.

"I will withdraw the inference that the Star of David was the symbol that the Greens wanted to put on every Exclusive Brethren business," Senator Bernardi said.

"Make no mistake that the Greens wanted to ensure that people of a particular religious persuasion were going to be marked in their businesses," he said.

After airing allegations of coerced abortion, torture and financial heavying in the Senate last year, Senator Xenophon broadened the terms of reference for his proposed inquiry from a direct examination of Scientology to a general examination of the tax status of religious or charitable groups.

The inquiry would have questioned whether the tax exemptions of religious groups should be subject to a public benefit test.

But the Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, said while the terms were general, Senator Xenophon made it clear it would be aimed squarely at Scientology.

"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," Senator Ludwig said.

He said the issues were covered in a Productivity Commission examination of the contribution of the non-profit sector, and in the Henry Tax Review.

The Tasmanian Liberal, Eric Abetz, also spoke against the motion.

Senator Xenophon, who said he had been contacted by hundreds of former Scientologists since speaking against the religion last year, said he would move another motion calling for an inquiry next week.

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