Impolite Dinner Conversation – update on the Exclusive Brethren

After the fantastic Four Corners program last night, I thought I should update my earlier article on the Exclusive Brethren, and see what else I can find out there.

It seems that the EB’s involvement in politics did not, in fact, start with the assumption of its leadership by Bruce Hales.

1993, Australian Federal Election – under John Hales (Bruce’s father), advertisements in newspapers around the country appeared supporting John Hewson’s “FightBack” campaign policy (the first iteration of the Goods & Services Tax) for the upcoming election. Orders to distribute these ads as widely as possible apparently came from John Hales.

(At this time, a man named Warwick Johns applied for, and was granted, a license to formally take up political lobbying. He was endorsed by a sitting Liberal MP. More of him later.)

According to ex-member Bob Hales (and note the name – yes, he is a relative), after the decisive Labor victory in that election, the EB decided they had erred by attempting to interfere in politics. This might explain the long silence until 2002 – unless we just haven’t found out about it yet.

2004, Australian Federal Election – the EB were granted a temporary exemption from a national program which would test all children for computer literacy. This was endorsed by Federal Education Minister Brendan Nelson, on the grounds that the EB’s religious beliefs prohibited them from becoming familiar with such technology. As we’ve seen, though, the evidence suggests that this was a policy well on its way out the door.

During the 2004 election campaign, Willmac Enterprises, a company owned by Mark McKenzie of the EB, was the sole vehicle by which funds for political campaigning were received and spent. McKenzie signed all the cheques. The funds themselves were provided by Warwick Johns (not an employee of WIllmac). Advertisements were placed in newspapers in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.

Willmac itself had a registered business address that was, in fact, a derelict house. This contravenes business registration laws. Adding to the crimes committed by Willmac, Warwick Johns deposted approximately $320,000 into Willmac’s accounts. These donations were not declared to the Australian Electoral Commission.

Some of the advertisements used in that 2004 election campaign were authorised by Stephen Hales, brother of the Elect Vessel. He gave his address as that of an EB school in Bennelong (Mr. Howard’s electorate) where he was a trustee. The school is a registered charity, and as such is not allowed to engage in any form of party political endorsement.

Giving the lie to the EB’s claim that the ads were the work of individuals acting independently, Four Corners revealed that many of these ads were authorised by Victorian members, booked by SA members, and funded by Willmac (registered in NSW).

2004, US Presidential election – the Thanksgiving Committee, mentioned in my earlier article, was only one of many to take part in lobbying. According to ex-member Don Monday, there were committee set up all over the country, all co-ordinated by a national committee. (Four Corners reported that Don Monday was threatened with legal action by the EB, when it learned that he was planning to speak out on this subject.)

2005, New Zealand federal election – the most recent figure for the amount spent by the EB on its smear campaign is $500,000 – $1 million. It’s now also known that the Opposition Leader, the National Party’s Don Brash, held private meetings with EB representatives. (Sound familiar?) According to both Neville Simmons (an EB member) and Marion Maddox (NZ academic and author of the incredible God Under Howard, the smear did not stop after Helen Clark’s election. Private investigators were hired to tail federal MPs, rumours were spread about the sexual preferences of politicians and their spouses (including Ms. Clark’s husband).

2006, Tasmania State election – along with newspaper advertisements, EB members took to driving around the streets towing signs smearing the Greens. The drivers’ faces were always obscured by fright masks.

The advertisements themselves were prepared by a company called Master Advertising. This was the same agency used by the Liberal Party – and in fact, all the anti-Green advertisements were paid by the Liberal Party account.

2006, US mid-term elections – the EB began a campaign to support, among others, Ohio Representative Ken Blackwell, known for his antagonism towards gay marriage and gun control. Shelli Carmichael, ex-member, said she and many other EB families, were commanded to engage in lobbying on his behalf. The Elect Vessel himself travelled to Ohio, but denies any activity other than “Bible readings”. (Blackwell has since come under investigation for unrelated matters of possible electoral fraud.)

***

It’s difficult to find a paper trail with much of the EB’s activities. According to ex-members (and confirmed by EB spokesperson Phil McNaughton), this is because members regularly travel internationally, bearing envelopes full of cash donations. The amounts invariably fall just under the legal limit of $10,000, meaning that the EB does not have to declare them.

***

It seems Mr Howard and Mr Costello aren’t the only ones who have met with the EB. Four Corners discovered that Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, Health Minister Tony Abbott and Minister for Human Services Chris Ellison have also held meetings. No one is talking about what was discussed.

The August ’07 meeting with Mr Howard, discussed in my earlier article, was attended by Elect Vessel Bruce Hales, his brother Stephen Hales, Warwick Johns and Mark McKenzie. Three of these men have violated electoral laws. The fourth is complicit, and may well have been the man who gave the final orders. Mr Howard still defends his right to meet with them.

***

The Four Corners program was completed before the news about the Wentworth leaflet broke. The full program with extended interviews is available online, as are reproductions of the political advertisements and leaflets that have been used by the EB.

Keep an eye out. It’s not over.

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One Response to Impolite Dinner Conversation – update on the Exclusive Brethren

  1. […] nothing new about exploiting this loophole. The Exclusive Brethren are some of the worst offenders, with a long history of electoral lobbying at one remove. […]

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