Senate rejects Scientology inquiry

Sydney, Australia - The Senate has rejected a second call for a parliamentary inquiry into the controversial Church of Scientology, but backers say the issue is gaining traction and have vowed to keep pushing it.

A group of former Scientologists watched from the public gallery as independent senator Nick Xenophon again argued the case for an inquiry on Thursday.

Unlike his failed effort to examine the tax-free status of religious groups including Scientology, this inquiry was to look at specific allegations by former Scientologists, but not their beliefs.

Scientology had engaged in criminal and unconscionable conduct, harassment and stalking, while benefiting from tax-exempt status, Senator Xenophon said.

"This is not about belief systems," he said. "This is about behaviour.

"When we have mounting evidence of cases of abuse, of cases where this organisation says it is above the law because of its own court system ... then I think that's worth looking at."

The motion was defeated 33 votes to 6, with Liberal Bill Heffernan pointedly abstaining.

Senator Xenophon will introduce a third Senate motion when parliament resumes in May.

"I call on my parliamentary colleagues to spend the next month and a half finding out more about these claims of abuse," he said in a statement.

"This will not go away."

He was backed by Australian Greens senator Christine Milne who accused the government and opposition of a cop-out.

Government Senate leader Chris Evans said he was no fan of the Church of Scientology and was "personally open" to an inquiry.

But the government opposed an inquiry for the same reasons it opposed an inquiry into the Exclusive Brethren sect last year - it didn't fit with the Senate's role, he said.

Liberal senator Eric Abetz argued the same point, but urged the Fair Work Ombudsman to examine the organisation's employment practices.

Earlier, parliamentarians seemed to be warming to the idea of an inquiry.

Nationals Senator John Williams left open his support for an inquiry and his colleague, Country-Liberal Party senator Nigel Scullion, said he would lobby his colleagues to support the move, but wouldn't cross the floor.

The Nationals' Barnaby Joyce and Labor MP Jodie Campbell also met a group of former Scientologists outside Parliament House, with Senator Joyce inviting them to a meeting.

The Church of Scientology has welcomed the Senate vote.

"It is not the role of parliament to investigate any religious organisation or seek to use parliament as a forum for an unfounded attack on any religion," it said in a statement.

It said Senator Xenophon's allegations were "utterly without foundation".

"They are rumour and outright lies by individuals levelling scurrilous accusations against their former religion."