MPs asked to meet for 'cult' talks amid calls for inquiry
A NORTHERN Rivers resident has called on state and federal MPs to gather together to discuss concerns about a "socially harmful cult" continuing to operate in the region.
Ballina Shire resident John Heaton said he'd welcomed Lismore MP Janelle Saffin's Private Member's Statement in which she raised key concerns about Goonellabah-based "esoteric healing" business Universal Medicine and its founder, Serge Benhayon.
In the statement, Ms Saffin raised concerns which arose from a NSW Supreme Court jury finding, in a failed defamation case Mr Benhayon brought against blogger Esther Rockett, that it was "substantially true" to say he led a "socially harmful cult", that he vilifies people with disabilities, and that UM engages in misleading conduct and "healing fraud" and preys on cancer patients.
Of 44 imputations that were made out, the jury found all were covered by Ms Rockett's defences of truth or honest opinion.
Most were covered by both defences.
In Parliament, Ms Saffin raised concerns about how UM had "infiltrated" her community, as well as "some government departments, agencies and related programs, and non-government organisations, some educational institutions, some media outlets and some business organisations".
Ms Saffin spoke of UM promoters who worked with children and other vulnerable people and government departments using UM-associated professionals in their Employee Assistance Programs.
While no MPs in government have publicly spoken in support of a judicial inquiry, Ms Rockett said it was "not a lost cause".
"I hope they pick it up and I hope they do it properly, that's all I can hope for," she said.
Ms Saffin told The Northern Star she planned to "further the discussion" with her parliamentary colleagues when she returned to parliament in two weeks' time.
"A lot of people come to me expressing deep and serious concern and I've acted in response to my community," she said.
Ms Saffin said she supported Mr Heaton's calls for a meeting of Northern Rivers MPs and said she was "happy to facilitate" such talks.
Federal member for Richmond Justine Elliot said she supported Ms Saffin's calls for an inquiry and concerns she raised.
"The focus should always be on protecting local health consumers," Ms Elliot said.
"There is a need for greater regulation around individuals and organisations that publish and disseminate potentially harmful misinformation and the Liberal National state government should be doing more to protect locals from misinformation and unsafe treatments."
Mr Benhayon has been approached for comment, along with federal Page MP Kevin Hogan and Ballina MP Tamara Smith.