Sep 9, 2016

Scientologists fight falling numbers with Asian HQ

The Australian

September 10, 2016





Sydney has become home to what Scientology calls its biggest ­“spiritual centre” outside the US as the group created by a science-fiction writer in 1950 makes a bid to cash in on the booming Asian region as its overall membership continues to fall.

Scientology’s global “ecclesiastical leader” David Miscavige, a former close friend of the movement’s late founder L. Ron ­Hubbard, opened the sprawling Scientology Advanced Organisation centre on Sydney’s lower north shore last Sunday.

“Where else can you dedicate a new Scientology Advanced ­Organisation as breathtaking as this?” Mr Miscavige asked a crowd of 2500 people at the site in the 360ha Lane Cove National Park.

Describing the complex as Scientology’s new Asian regional headquarters, he added: “Or, for that matter, where else can you offer the timeless freedom of eternity to the most populated zone on Earth?”

And it wasn’t just those who believe Earth was colonised by 13.5 trillion aliens sent here by a space war lord named Xenu who were pushing Scientology’s cause.

The event’s five guest speakers — none of them Scientologists — included two university professors, a Muslim cleric, the chair­woman of the Asian Cultural Association of Greater Sydney and David Bennett QC, a former commonwealth solicitor-general. Mr Bennett’s 1983 Scientology-funded Australian High Court ­action saw the sect become legally accepted as a “religion”, giving it tax-free status.

When contacted by The Weekend Australian those speakers said they did not adhere to Scientology but were willing to support it ­because of its “humanitarian” endeavours or because they were advocates of religious freedom.

James Cook University professor Gracelyn Smallwood, a long-time Aboriginal activist, said she had agreed to be a guest speaker because it provided a platform for her cause.

“My religion is 50,000 years old and I have made that very clear, but as a human rights activist for half a century, if you get a platform to discuss human rights violations then that’s a privilege,” Dr Smallwood said. “I wasn’t going to play politics with different religions when my people are dying at alarming rates in one of the richest countries in the world.”

Many of the practices of Scientology have been highly controversial, with many people who have left the organisations claiming it targets the vulnerable, ­engages in brainwashing and separates people from their families and friends who don’t believe Hubbard’s teachings.

The organisation also vastly overstates its membership, claiming it is “training 100,000 locals” in Australia.

Journalist Steve Cannane, whose book Fair Game, the Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia, is being released this month, said just 2163 people identified as Scientologists at the last Australian census, which was down 13 per cent from the previous census and fewer than the number of people claiming to be Jedi Knights.

“Because their numbers are going backwards all they can do to show they are successful and ­expanding is to open new buildings, and it’s all part of a marketing exercise,” Cannane said.

“It’s like a fourth-division football team setting up their own ­stadium but no one turns up.”

It also charged members hundreds of thousands of dollars to reach stages of “enlightenment”.

University of Notre Dame ­associate dean Keith Thompson, a lecturer in religion and constitutional law, said he had spoken at the launch because he believed in “religious liberty”.

He was not a Scientologist but a Mormon, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The principal of ­religious liberty is a fundamental freedom,” Dr Thompson said.

He said concerns about Scientology was “a lot of press beat-up”.

Le Lam, chairwoman of the Asian Cultural Association for Greater Sydney, said she had supported the event ­because she would support any movement which was “good for society and humankind”.

Ms Lam is the former mayor of Sydney’s Auburn city council, which was sacked in February ahead of a public inquiry into concerns over links between property developers, real estate workers and city councillors.


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