Australia's Eros Association Goes After Religious Sect

CANBERRA, Australia — Adult industry trade group the Eros Association has taken aim at a fundamentalist sect called the Exclusive Brethren for allegedly infiltrating local councils, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

The Association leveled these charges after discovering that a group of Exclusive Brethren business leaders had attempted to fund Lithgow City Council's Supreme Court fight against an application by Flirt Adult Store for a development permit.

The council denied Flirt owner Jeff Oliver's application for a permit, but Oliver won an appeal in the Land and Environment Court. The council was planning to appeal that court's decision, and was given the go-ahead by the Department of Local Government to accept funds from the Exclusive Brethren in order to pursue that appeal. It eventually decided not to do so, however, and Flirt was allowed to open.

About 100 members of the Exclusive Brethren live in the Lithgow area, and in the eyes of the Department of Local Government, there is no legal conflict in a city council "accepting a donation from a third party." To critics, however, it smacks of sanctioned bribery.

Lithgow councilman Martin Ticehurst said he was disturbed by the fact that it was perfectly legal for councils to accept money from groups such as the Brethren that want to influence outcomes.

"It's not just the involvement of religious groups that concerns me," Ticehurst said. "Councils should not be allowed to accept money from any activist group. It could be perceived as a form of bribery, and I think it's potentially dangerous."

Eros Association coordinator Robbie Swan commented, "There is increasing evidence that the Exclusive Brethren have infiltrated other morals groups around the nation and have embarked on a national campaign to stop adult retail shops from opening. There is also increasing evidence that their members are secretly being elected to local councils, with moral agendas their main reason for being there."

The Exclusive Brethren does not allow its members to vote, but is known for its large donations to the Liberal Party.