Not all grievances are created equal in politics - Sydney Morning Herald Mark Davis at Sydney Morning Herald has a good piece on the politics of the votes on Sen Xenophon's motion: Senate in Australia Rejects Inquiry Into Scientology Not all grievances are created equal in politics MARK DAVIS March 19, 2010 When allegations emerged that shonky insulation installers operating under the Federal Government's home insulation program had exposed householders to the risk of fires and workers to injury or death, the Liberal and National Parties promptly referred the matter to a Senate inquiry. And when trade unions claimed that Australia Post was cutting its workers compensation costs by using company doctors to force injured employees back to work prematurely, the Labor Party was more than willing to ask a Senate committee to inquire. But yesterday, despite credible accounts tabled in Parliament of harassment, assault and fraud by the Church of Scientology, Labor, Liberal and National Senators all joined forces to defeat a move by the South Australian independent Senator Nick Xenophon for an inquiry. You might have thought the role of Senate committees should include investigating serious grievances and claims of mistreatment by citizens who have nowhere else to go because of gaps in the legal system. But not all grievances, it seems, are created equal. The Opposition is more interested in allegations which lend themselves to political point-scoring against the Government. The Government, in turn, prefers Senate inquiries which give its allies in the union movement a forum to ventilate industrial grievances. Senator Xenophon first raised his concerns about Scientology in the Senate last November. He tabled letters from former members, officials and staff alleging abusive practices inside the Church including assault, imprisonment, torture, covering up sexual abuse, blackmail and embezzlement. Senator Xenophon said then that he wanted a Senate inquiry into the allegations by these "victims of Scientology." He had the backing of the Greens. But Labor and Liberal senators warned him informally that they would be wary about anything smacking of intruding upon religious freedom. So last week Senator Xenophon moved for the Senate's economics references committee to examine whether tax exemptions under federal law for charitable and religious organisations (including Scientology) should be subject to a public interest test. His tactic was to frame an inquiry in the narrowest of terms, focussing on the issue of tax exemptions to avoid accusations he wanted a witch-hunt into Scientology. But that did not stop the major parties from voting down Senator Xenophon's first motion last Thursday. The Special Minister of State, Joe Ludwig, said the government would not support the motion because there had already been several inquiries into the tax treatment of charitable organisations and there was no need for another. Having been rebuffed for framing his inquiry too narrowly, even though he had been advised to do so to attract wider support, Senator Xenophon returned to the fray yesterday. This time he moved a motion asking the economics committee to inquire into: * allegations of abuse by the Church of Scientology including coerced abortions, unsafe occupational health and safety practices, unconscionable, misleading and deceptive conduct in its provision of goods and services, and harassment of followers and ex-followers; * the adequacy of the Model Criminal Code in respect of the offence of psychological harm; * the adequacy of consumer protection laws in respect of fundraising and provision of goods and services by Scientology; * the adequacy of occupational health and safety laws and workplace relations laws in respect of conduct inside the Church. The motion ruled out any examination of the validity of Scientology's beliefs systems. Once again, Government and Opposition senators and the Victorian Family First senator Steve Fielding, joined forces to outvote Senator Xenophon and the five Greens, torpedoing any inquiry. Opposition frontbencher Eric Abetz said allegations of illegality should be dealt with by authorities like the police or the Fair Work Ombudsman rather than a Senate inquiry. That stance is inconsistent with the Opposition's approach to allegations of illegality under the home insulation program which it has pursued with alacrity in Parliament despite the relevant coronial and workplace health and safety authorities having their own examinations on foot. The Government's Senate leader Chris Evans had a different rationale. He said the role of Senate committees was to inquire into matters of public policy and government administration, not into individual organisations. "It is a very dangerous thing for us to have what could be seen as a witch-hunt against an individual organisation, be it a religion, a trade union, a community organisation or a company," Senator Evans said. Executives at Australia Post must be surprised to hear Senator Evans invoke a rule against Senate inquiries into individual companies after Labor joined with the minor parties last October to refer allegations over Post's health and safety practices to a Senate committee. And the Australian Football League must wonder why Labor initiated a Senate inquiry in 2008 into whether its decision to admit new teams from western Sydney and the Gold Coast, before a team from Tasmania, was fair and equitable. Cults have long shielded unsavoury activities from external scrutiny under the guise of religious freedom. But with the heightened influence of religion on politics in Australia in recent years, this tactic is now working more effectively for the Scientologists. Back in 1985 this reporter covered a debate in the South Australian Parliament's upper house on the report of a select committee which had conducted a 10-month inquiry into Scientology and found evidence the Church had ripped off people financially. As the debate unfolded a congregation of Scientologists, all clad in black, crammed into the Legislative Council's public gallery and stood there, staring intently at MPs as they spoke. Eventually the leader of the SA Australian Democrats, the late Lance Milne, complained to the President of the Council, saying he believed the Scientologists were trying to hypnotise him. The Scientologists were warned in no uncertain terms that they would be ejected if they continued attempting to intimidate Parliamentarians and soon backed off. Now, 25 years later, the tables have been turned.