|In Australia, the Melbourne Age has disclosed further new evidence about the interference of the Exclusive Brethren during the last Australian federal election in 2004.
Much of the new revelation centres on the two federal Liberal MPs that arranged for the Exclusive Brethren to have access to John Howard. One, former Veterans Affairs minister Donna Vale, is noted for anti-Muslim racist statements about population increase and abortion. The other, David Ferguson, is himself a fundamentalist Christian, and in a highly marginal Tasmanian federal seat.
However, there has been a disturbing new development. According to the Age, the church has hired Liberal-backed public relations firm Jackson Wells Morris to provide them with political advice and deal with "hostile media".
On ABC, the Four Corners current affairs programme disclosed additional details of the sect'sinterference to secure the election of conservative politicians world-wide, which include money, anonymous attack advertising and logistical support such as phone canvassing.
When Exclusive Brethren lobbyists met John Howard on August 8, "Elect Vessel" Bruce Hales, and another Brethren man, Mark Mackenzie, attended the meeting as well as two other Brethren lobbyists. Mackenzie directs a company that funnelled $370,000 into Howard's coffers during the last Australian federal election, which is now under investigation by the Australian Federal Police.
Jackson Wells Morris replied to the Age disclosures above, and said the company "has provided advice to the Brethren on how to deal with some of the issues they face and to engage with a hostile media".
"In recent years, sections of the media have subjected the Brethren to unwarranted scrutiny bordering on harassment. It has been a witch-hunt. If the Brethren had been given a fair hearing they would be much better understood, like any other church or religious organisation." (Melbourne Age, 15/10).
Jackson, who handles the Brethren account for the PR firm, has worked for senior ministers Helen Coonan and Joe Hockey. He also worked for Liberal Party campaign headquarters in 2004.
As for Jackson Wells Morris, when I perused itscorporate website, it did not seem to have any other overtly conservative religious clients. Moreover, its corporate magazine, The Wall, indicated that whatever its individual account managers believe, it is a politically neutral organisation.
Moreover, there have been questions raised about whether the sect believes itself to be above "human laws." The Age (15 October) cited a statement by "Elect Vessel" Bruce Hales in 2003, when he told a Brethren gathering that "I can't exactly expect to get mercy in the judicial system" and the Brethren church was "the highest court" that had "the power to overrule other judgements".
In the context of Exclusive Brethren involvement in acrimonious child custody disputes, former Australian Family Court Justice Alistair Nicholson criticised the machinations of the sect, saying that it was "obviously not acceptable in a democratic society for people to treat themselves as above the law".
In response to Justice Nicholson, Exclusive Brethren spokespeople stated that Mr Hales' comment should be seen as purely a "theological reference … that moral and spiritual matters are dealt with by the church, despite these issues not always being considered in a court of law" (Age, 15 October).
However, the federal ALP Opposition is not convinced by the above, especially given escalating evidence of Brethren/Liberal linkages that go back to at least the last Australian federal election. ALP spokesperson Anthony Albanese demanded that the Howard administration should "disclose all of the financial and other support they have received from the Exclusive Brethren" as the country prepares for its next federal election on November 24 (Age, 15 October).
Sources: Michael Bachelard: "Brethren Children Abused" (15.10.07) Michael Bachelard: "Two Liberal MPs sponsor Brethren" (15.10.07)Melbourne Age: http://www.theage.com.au/
Jackson Wells Morris webpage: http://www.jacksonwells.com/ Craig Young - 25th October 2007