The strange and fascinating world of Scientology has been a hot topic for journalists and documentary makers for half–a–century. Over the last few years it’s been in the news thanks to high profile celebrity defections by director Paul Haggis and actor Leah Remini as well as documentaries such as Alex Gibney’s brilliant Going Clear and Louis Theroux’s less effective My Scientology Movie.
There is also an Australian angle to why Scientology has been in the news of late. Nick Xenophon called out the church in the senate in 2009 that triggered the Four Corners report ‘The Ex–Files’, which led to Steve Cannane, the author of Fair Game, to cover Scientology for Lateline. Former Scientology lieutenant Mike Rinder tells Cannane that this reporting by the ABC had an influence on how the US media would report on Scientology.
But the close connection Australia has with Scientology doesn’t begin with Xenophon calling Scientology a “criminal organisation” in the senate. Cannane reports just how
imperative Australia has been to the rise and scandals of the church. Soon after
science fiction writer L Ron Hubbard released Dianetics, he had followers in Australia with Scientology’s leader delivering six lectures in Melbourne in 1959, a turning point as a fallout with an Australian member would lead to Scientology being banned in three states,
a world first for the religion.
Cannane doesn’t focus on the stranger beliefs held by the church, instead he details just how connected Australian has been to the rise of Scientology as well as the defining roles this country has played in antagonising the church through the media and parliament. Many Aussies have also risen through the ranks to hold high positions in the organisation.
Then there are the bizarre stories, such as Scientology infiltrating the South Australian Labor Party in the ‘70s, the church’s recruitment of rugby league stars in the ‘70s and ‘80s as well as James Packer’s brief dalliance with the religion thanks to Tom Cruise. Most alarming is the use of Australia as a 21st century “penal colony” to send Scientology members for “re–education”.
Australia’s connection with Scientology is deeper than you ever believed, and just when you thought there couldn’t be a new angle to the Scientology story, Cannane unearths a
fascinating one with Fair Game.