CALL FOR CULT WATCHDOG

15 April 2011

Independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon has today called for the establishment of a dedicated government agency to monitor and control the activities of cults in Australia.

Speaking at the Law Institute of Victoria’s Not-For-Profit conference, Senator Xenophon said that current laws failed to provide protection against the activities of “dangerous cults, which can manipulate, abuse and rip off followers”.

He called for the establishment of a watchdog based on France’s MIVILUDES agency (an acronym for Mission interministerielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les derives sectaries) which has successfully taken on cult-like activities of organisations such as Scientology in France.

However, despite bi-partisan support in a Senate Committee Report for an investigation into the applicability of a MIVILUDES-type watchdog in Australia, the Government has to date rejected even looking into it.

“MIVILUDES has received bi-partisan support in France, and has provided assistance and support to those affected by cults. There is evidence that cult-like behaviour in France has been significantly curtailed by the existence of such a watchdog,” Nick said.

The French laws, in force since 2001, also have an offence of ‘mental manipulation’, which targets the ‘fraudulent abuse… of a person in a state of psychological or physical dependency resulting from serious or repeated pressure or from techniques used to affect his judgement’.

The offence carries a penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of over $500 000.

Senator Xenophon also referred to the loopholes in current criminal and civil laws to call for sweeping law reform to protect vulnerable individuals from cult activities.

“For instance, former cult members have told me how they couldn’t get protection under stalking laws because they were stalked by different members of the same organisation on different days. Current stalking laws require the one individual to be responsible for the stalking,” Nick said.

His calls for law reform were backed by leading competition and consumer law expert, Associate Professor Frank Zumbo, who supports calls for a wide ranging investigation by the ACCC into possible breaches of Australian consumer law in relation to the commercial activities of religious cults.

“These organisations, which invariably receive tax free status, offer books, courses, seminars and other so-called educational programs, often at enormous cost, with questionable value or benefits. I’ve known former cult followers who have lost over a million dollars purchasing these so-called goods and services,” Nick said.

“This is also a fundamental consumer protection issue that the ACCC must tackle.”

In his speech, Senator Xenophon was highly critical of the Federal Government failing to yet set up a regulator for not-for-profit organisations, despite the Government claiming it had a policy to do so.

Independent Senator for South Australia Nick Xenophon has today called for the establishment of a dedicated government agency to monitor and control the activities of cults in Australia.

 

Speaking at the Law Institute of Victoria’s Not-For-Profit conference, Senator Xenophon said that current laws failed to provide protection against the activities of “dangerous cults, which can manipulate, abuse and rip off followers”.

 

He called for the establishment of a watchdog based on France’s MIVILUDES agency (an acronym for Mission interministerielle de vigilance et de lutte contre les derives sectaries) which has successfully taken on cult-like activities of organisations such as Scientology in France.

 

However, despite bi-partisan support in a Senate Committee Report for an investigation into the applicability of a MIVILUDES-type watchdog in Australia, the Government has to date rejected even looking into it.

 

“MIVILUDES has received bi-partisan support in France, and has provided assistance and support to those affected by cults. There is evidence that cult-like behaviour in France has been significantly curtailed by the existence of such a watchdog,” Nick said.

 

The French laws, in force since 2001, also have an offence of ‘mental manipulation’, which targets the ‘fraudulent abuse… of a person in a state of psychological or physical dependency resulting from serious or repeated pressure or from techniques used to affect his judgement’.

 

The offence carries a penalty of three years imprisonment and a fine of over $500 000.

 

Senator Xenophon also referred to the loopholes in current criminal and civil laws to call for sweeping law reform to protect vulnerable individuals from cult activities.

 

“For instance, former cult members have told me how they couldn’t get protection under stalking laws because they were stalked by different members of the same organisation on different days. Current stalking laws require the one individual to be responsible for the stalking,” Nick said.

 

His calls for law reform were backed by leading competition and consumer law expert, Associate Professor Frank Zumbo, who supports calls for a wide ranging investigation by the ACCC into possible breaches of Australian consumer law in relation to the commercial activities of religious cults.

 

“These organisations, which invariably receive tax free status, offer books, courses, seminars and other so-called educational programs, often at enormous cost, with questionable value or benefits. I’ve known former cult followers who have lost over a million dollars purchasing these so-called goods and services,” Nick said.

 

“This is also a fundamental consumer protection issue that the ACCC must tackle.”

 

In his speech, Senator Xenophon was highly critical of the Federal Government failing to yet set up a regulator for not-for-profit organisations, despite the Government claiming it had a policy to do so.

 

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