ONE OF the federal Labor government's many decisions in the past four months - recognition of scientology as a religion - has passed with little, if any, coverage by the Australian press. However, the move has been more than popular with the nation's 3000 active scientologists and has received rave reviews in the movement's press, both here and overseas.
The government's proclamation, gazetted on february 15, recognised as celebrants of marriage fiftyfive religious bodies, including the Church of the New Faith Incorporated - the name adopted by the Church of Scientology following the 1963-65 Anderson inquiry in Victoria.
According to the Victorian president, the reverend Ian Tampion, federal recognition under the Matrimonial Causes Act has embarrassed the Victorian government and made all parties wary of the issue with the election so close. Mr Tampion wrote to Messrs Hamer, Thompson, Rossiter and Ross-Edwards following the federal move and asked that the repressive clauses of the Psychological Practices Act be repealed because they were no longer enforceable. All four parliamentarians refused to discuss the matter - thereby giving tacit approval for any boom in the fringe religion.
The Australian edition of the movement's paper Freedom (published in Britain but printed in East Malvern, Victoria) gives banner headlines to the Murphy decision. The frontpage story gives credit to Lionel for the repeal bills on anti scientology legislation now being processed in both Western Australia and South Australia.
An editorial in the same paper written by the Australian leader, Michael Graham of Perth, declares Murphy a responsible public figure in speedily implementing promises made in opposition last year. Graham draws the conclusion that apparently Murphy agrees with scientologists in not accepting the "conduct, findings and bias of the Anderson inquiry".
More praise is laid at the senator's feet for advising the English world headquarters of the Australian recognition when he was in London recently. Mary Sue Hubbard, controller for the founder, says Lionel's action means "honest politicians do exist and Australia can look forward to an exciting future under the Labor government".
Both reverends Graham and Tampion agree that Murphy's decision followed a legal precedent set by a Western Australian magistrate in 1970. The magistrate upheld an appeal by the reverend J. Gellie against his conscription on the grounds that he was a fulltime minister of religion. Mr Tampion is quick to point out that Ivor Greenwood refused to acknowledge that legal judgment.
Continuing Graham's editorial, he asserts that today in Australia "the point has been reached when truth is revealed, when suspicion, propaganda and slurs stand revealed as shadows with no substance. Australia is a country which has probably more potential for expansion than any other in the west today".
Fighting words indeed, and words backed up by L. Ron Hubbard, who, in a recent letter circularised through Australian branches, urged his brethren to greater activities with these words: "A hard fight is over. Now that there are no bans on scientology in Australia I want to congratulate you on having your country back. I also want you to throw the doors wide open now."
In Victoria, Tampion is more than eager to talk about the future plans of his church. He admits his past reticence was a mistake and has adopted a more open approach to public scrutiny.
He says the catch-22 aspect of recognition (the Victorian legislation exempts ministers of religion from the provisions of the Psychological Practices Act which ban the teaching and practice of scientology for fee or reward, but the federal move, in effect, makes ministers of scientology ministers of religion) has opened the way to resume former practices. These include advertising, mainly of the literature distributed from England and the States; and use of the E-meter, an electrical resistance device used by scientologists when counselling and now recognised as a religious artefact in America.
Tampion and his brethren are doubly happy at present because they've just won another victory. The Caulfield city council has for the past twelve months been refusing to issue a permit for the church to use its Inkerman road premises as a place of worship. However an appeal by the scientologists has been upheld by the Town Planning Appeals tribunal.
For the uninitiated, the Church of the New Faith Incorporated, operates in four capital cities - Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Sydney. Although 20,000 members have passed through the books, officials agree that 3000 would be closer to the actual number of practising brethren. A supreme being is acknowledged but scientologists believe that God is in oneself, that inherent Godlike qualities may be suppressed and that processing a preclear will improve his wellbeing etc. The only symbolism apparent is a cross.
Ian Tampion says the new era now being heralded in Australian scientology will hopefully involve recognition by other churches and government backing for some of its projects - particularly Narconon, a No-to-Narcotics scheme which is being financed by thirtynine state prisons in America and by the Swedish government. Based on scientology practices Narconon claims an 80 percent success rate.
Finance for scientology is by donation and fees - according to Tampion who stresses that he receives nothing above his salary for being a secretary and director of a group of building industry companies. Small stipends are paid to the six fulltime staff at the Melbourne church.
Perhaps the greatest sign of things to come, not only in Victoria, is the advertisement placed in the latest issue of Church news. It calls on those interested in working in a safe, happy environment to consider full or parttime work, trained or untrained, in expanding scientology in Victoria.