Andrew Wilkie

THE almost unanimous Senate vote this week against an enquiry into the activities of the Exclusive Brethren sect should send a shudder down peoples’ spines.
Brethren members have shown themselves to be completely intolerant of any view at odds with their own ultra-conservatism. They are also disturbingly mischievous in their political activism. I should know, because Brethren members were deeply involved in politics during the 2004 Federal election in Prime Minister John Howard’s own electorate where I ran as a candidate. At that time Brethren members disrupted my public meetings, intimidated campaign workers and distributed misleading leaflets which were also inconsistent with the authorisation requirements contained in the Commonwealth Electoral Act. All the Brethren members I encountered personally were wildly intolerant, obsessively pre-occupied with sexuality and extremely threatening in their manner.

The Howard Government’s — and the Labor Opposition’s — refusal to support the call in the Senate for an enquiry into the activities of the Exclusive Brethren illustrates again the weak state of Australia’s democracy. It was an opportunity lost for most politicians to show strong leadership as well as a genuine interest in addressing religious extremism. Instead the Liberal, Labor and National parties showed themselves to be weak, little differentiated in their policies and beholden to the support of extreme religious groups.

Australia signed up to a so-called war on terror, which by any measure it is losing. Dealing with religious extremism — in all its forms — would be a good start to turning this around.