Create special laws for cults: DPP

Canberra, Australia - SA's chief prosecutor Stephen Pallaras is calling for new laws to thwart the rise of cults across the nation.

Mr Pallaras says a new approach by law-makers needs to address the "mental damage and mental harm" caused by cults.

"Conventional laws have difficulty in coping with the injuries that are caused. What I'm interested in is finding a way to deal with the damage that the cults do," he said.

His calls are backed by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon, who invited Mr Pallaras to Canberra yesterday to meet the chief of the French Government's cult-busting agency, Miviludes.

The DPP faced criticism earlier this year over its handling of the case involving those involved with the doomsday Adelaide-based cult, Agape Ministries.

Mr Pallaras would not comment on that case, but said Australia could learn from the French approach to cults.

"The sorts of mental damage and mental harm that we're hearing about from these people are not easily coped with by the laws we've got, not only in our state, but across Australia," he said.

"And it may be that we've got to look at something like the French are doing to help us cope with that evil which is a social evil." Senator Xenophon said "the Agape Ministries debacle is proof our current laws don't work".

"For the first time an Australian DPP has recognised the weaknesses in our laws when it comes to abuse within cults," he said.

Senator Xenophon said the French "cult-busting laws work; they give protection to victims".

Mr Pallaras says under Australian laws, prosecution is difficult.

"They're (cults) not any harder to prosecute than anyone else if they commit conventional offences," he said.

"The trouble is the evil they represent ... is much more difficult to address with conventional laws, so we've got to look at something a bit unconventional."

Attorney-General John Rau yesterday agreed: "This is a very difficult area for prosecutors".

But he warned: "Any government contemplating specific anti-cult legislation would need to tread carefully.

"I am interested in discussing this issue with the DPP and hearing his ideas about a better approach to tackling their damaging behaviour," he said.