Scientology Dodges a Bullet in Australia: Church Told to Pay Workers, Says "We'll Get Right On That" (UPDATED)

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UPDATE: After the jump, former Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder reacts to news of the surprising final ombudsman's report.

Scientology watchers in Australia are still absorbing a stunning case of bait-and-switch Down Under.

Earlier this week, a "draft" report by that country's "Fair Work Ombudsman" was leaked which seemed to indicate that Scientology was on the verge of a world of hurt: after interviewing eight witnesses who complained of working long hours for little pay, the labor agency seemed convinced that Scientology is falsely calling employees "volunteers" and might actually be violating the country's anti-slavery laws.

Tonight, however, the "final" report of the Ombudsman was released, and it reads nothing like that earlier draft.

None of the eight witnesses were working for the church recently enough for their claims to matter, and only two of the witnesses were working for other church entities that can be investigated. And even those witnesses, the report says, were working voluntarily.

The document urges Scientology to audit itself and make sure it is paying people properly. Australia's ABC reports that the church, not surprisingly, says it will do so.

It's currently 4 in the morning here in New York, so it will be some time before I can reach Mike Rinder and other sources for reaction to this news.

Online reactions are muted. Members of Anonymous initially greeted the final report with some elation...

Oh. My. God. It is a thing of beauty and freedom and justice.

But as they made their way through the lengthy document, it gradually began to dawn on some that the report was not what they had expected.

This isn't the huge, stake-thro-the-heart-of-the-Beast that we had hoped it would be

No, indeed. It isn't.

The report spends several pages establishing that Scientology's various entities are constitutional corporations under Australian law and are subject to the labor agency's jurisdiction.

But then it goes through the case of each witness, some of whom haven't worked for Scientology since the 1980s. One after another, they are simply dismissed as evidence that is too old to consider.

One witness did work from 1998 to 2008 -- but said that work was voluntary, and the Ombudsman doesn't disagree.

Another witness was only 14 when she signed a billion-year contract and joined the hardcore Sea Org, would work from 9 in the morning until 3 or 4 the next morning, and once worked 72 hours straight -- but still, considered this voluntary work.

All of the tough language of the draft report -- that the Ombudsman didn't buy the church's claims that this work was voluntary, and that anti-slavery laws might be violated -- has been stripped out.

Instead, the report concludes with weak recommendations that Scientology should get its own house in order. With such get-tough sounding headings as, "What the Church of Scientology and workers might do to reduce further complaints," the report goes on to recommend that Scientology hire an auditor.

It would be prudent for the Church of Scientology to proactively undertake this self audit process at the earliest opportunity.

Oh, we're certain David Miscavige will get on that, straight away.


UPDATE: I spoke with Mike Rinder about the surprising final report. He had this to say:

"I believe this is the effort to be abundantly cautious on the part of this Fair Work Ombudsman. Why they changed it so much was that they didn't feel they had a strong case to go with because of the witnesses that were available to them," he said. "And yet, because of the publicity around this investigation, there are a whole lot of other people coming forward now. And they may have the better circumstances the Ombudsman is looking for -- working for the church in the last six years and under certain contracts, etc."

I told Rinder that there were many moments in the document that seemed to hint as much -- that the Ombudsman will be interested in further investigation, but with better witnesses and data.

"I don't view this as the end, not as case closed, but as case opened," Rinder said.

He also pointed out that the disappointing final report won't stop a class action lawsuit, which was announced by an Australian law firm earlier in the week.



The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology
#8: Mike Rinder
#9: Jason Beghe
#10: Lisa McPherson
#11: Nick Xenophon (and other public servants)
#12: Tommy Davis (and other hapless church executives)
#13: Janet Reitman (and other journalists)
#14: Tory Christman (and other noisy ex-Scientologists)
#15: Andreas Heldal-Lund (and other old time church critics)
#16: Marc and Claire Headley, escapees of the church's HQ
#17: Jefferson Hawkins, the man behind the TV volcano
#18: Amy Scobee, former Sea Org executive
#19: The Squirrel Busters (and the church's other thugs and goons)
#20: Trey Parker and Matt Stone (and other media figures)
#21: Kendrick Moxon, attorney for the church
#22: Jamie DeWolf (and other L. Ron Hubbard family members)
#23: Ken Dandar (and other attorneys who litigate against the church)
#24: David Touretzky (and other academics)
#25: Xenu, galactic overlord


tortega@villagevoice.com | @VoiceTonyO | Facebook: Tony Ortega

See all of our recent Scientology coverage at the Voice

Keep up on all of our New York news coverage at this blog, Runnin' Scared

Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he's been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard's organization:

The Larry Wollersheim Saga -- Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story -- How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection -- A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Robert Cipriano Case -- A Hellacious Example of Fair Game
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum -- The 'Crash' Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape -- 'Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle'
The Aaron Saxton Accusation -- Australia turns up the heat on Scientology
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation -- Scientology's former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross -- Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked -- Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back -- Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack -- The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated -- The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation -- Investigating a reporter's divorce to shut him up
The Hugh Urban Investigation -- An academic takes a harsh look at Scientology's past
Giovanni Ribisi as David Koresh -- A precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian link
Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology -- A masterful telling of Scientology's history
The Western Spy Network Revealed? -- Marty Rathbun ups the ante on David Miscavige
Scientology's Enemies List -- Are You On It?
Inside Inside Scientology -- An interview with author Janet Reitman
Scientology and the Nation of Islam -- Holy Doctrinal Mashup, Batman!
Scientologists -- How Many of Them Are There, Anyway?
Roger Weller's Wild Ride -- Scientology When it was Hip
The Marc Headley Infiltration -- A Scientology Spying Operation Revealed
Placido Domingo Jr: Scientology's Retaliation is "Scary and Pathetic"
An Interview with Nancy Many, Former Scientology Spy
The Paulien Lombard Confession -- A Scientology Spy Comes Clean
The Deputy Benjamin Ring Hard Sell -- Scientology wants your 401K
The Top 25 People Crippling Scientology -- the whole series!
The Squirrel Busters Busted -- Unmasking the Scientology PI in Charge
Tommy Davis, Scientology spokesman, secretly recorded discussing 'disconnection'
Scientology internal document says its Office of Special Affairs will 'handle' the Village Voice



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