Kevin Rudd endorses Exclusive Brethren fire book

The Australian/January 15, 2010

Kevin Rudd has personally endorsed a bushfire book produced by the Exclusive Brethren, the secretive sect he once described as an "extremist cult" that breaks up families.

The Prime Minister provided a letter, accompanied by a photo, congratulating the Brethren-run Glenvale School in Victoria for producing the book. The Brethren yesterday confirmed Mr Rudd was aware the sect was involved in the book when he agreed to provide the letter.

The letter is reproduced on a full page at the front of the book, which is billed as a fundraiser for the Country Fire Authority.

About 55,000 copies of Firestorm: Black Saturday's Tragedy have been printed and are on sale for $50. The preface says the book was the work of "parents and friends" of Glenvale's Lilydale and Berwick campuses, but fails to note the school is run by the sect.

Peter Flinn, a western Victorian CFA brigade secretary and ex-member of the Brethren, said people needed to be aware who was behind the book.

"It all sounds very good but these people have always got their own agenda," Mr Flinn said. "A lot of people wouldn't realise the Brethren is behind this book. There's no detail about how the money would come to the CFA and under what conditions."

The Brethren runs a network of schools, including Glenvale, which will receive $70 million in federal funds in the four years to 2012, The Australian reported this week.

The Brethren says no school funds were used on the book and the cost of production was "largely covered by pre-orders". The sect says no money has been given to the CFA yet, but it plans a first distribution of $200,000.

"All profits from the book will be passed on to the CFA," Brethren spokesman Bruce Garrett said.

Complaints that the Brethren was contacting CFA brigade secretaries urging them to buy the book have sparked a privacy investigation within the CFA.

The CFA confirmed it had agreed to receive proceeds from the book, but had told its volunteer brigades they were under no obligation to purchase copies or promote and sell the book.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd said: "Given the tragic need for support the Prime Minister decided to assist the widest number of organisations possible pursuing initiatives on behalf of bushfire victims and the Country Fire Authority. In lending his support the Prime Minister is in no way seeking to endorse or promote the organisation."

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