Nelson helps non-voting sect exercise its democratic rights

The Age, Australia/February 17, 2008

The secretive Exclusive Brethren religious sect has been granted unrestricted access to the corridors of Federal Parliament with the help of Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, even though members do not vote.

Stephen Elder, one of the sect's senior members and the brother of its Australian leader, Bruce Hales, has been granted a sought-after lobbyists' pass, granting full access to Parliament.

Another Brethren elder, Warwick John, also holds a lobbyist pass.

With unrestricted access to all parts of the building, Brethren leaders are free to try and exercise influence on parliamentary business.

Answers provided to written questions by Greens leader Bob Brown reveal that Dr Nelson and the former Tasmanian Liberal MP, Michael Ferguson, sponsored the pass application by Mr Hales.

Mr John's pass was sponsored by NSW Liberal MP Danna Vale and Mr Ferguson.

A spokeswoman for Senator Brown, who has campaigned against the sect, said the issue was one of disclosure.

"Senator Brown does not object to these people being granted the lobbyists passes, he just wants it to be on the public record," she said.

The Exclusive Brethren is poised to receive more than $10 million in Federal Government funds this year, despite the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, branding it during the election campaign as an extremist cult that breaks up families. The $10 million will be paid to five schools around Australia run by the Brethren.

The sect had a warm relationship with former prime minister John Howard. A spokesman for Dr Nelson declined to comment.

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