Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan has told Crikey this morning that had he known more about the religious sect the Exclusive Brethren, he would not have agreed to meet with four members in his Sale electoral office in August. Ryan also told Crikey that the Victorian National Party’s association with the sect is a “complete myth,” and that he has already publicly distanced himself from the group. 

Crikey asked Ryan today whether he would follow New Zealand Nationals leader Don Brash’s lead and publicly cut all ties with the Brethren, but Ryan responded that he’d already done so and in fact Brash was following his lead after pressure from the New Zealand media.

Ryan told Crikey that he disassociated himself from the Brethren “…the publicity surrounding the organisation carries with it the strong suggestion of a series of initiatives that don’t sit well with me… There would appear to be an overarching control of family members and young people in a way which seems to me to be excessive,” says Ryan. “Plus the allegations that have been made by the New Zealand Prime Minister…. “

Ryan’s views on abortion and gay marriage seem to be shared by the controversial sect, but Ryan told Crikey, “I am increasingly infuriated with the very supposition that I have in any way got any association with these people, I had a half hour conversation with these people, that is the beginning and that is the end of it. There is no prospect of my meeting with them again…”

Ryan has already stated that the Nationals will not accept any funding from the Brethren.

“Ironically, in New Zealand I’m seen as the figurehead of right and truth and justice because I am the one who rejected any association with the Brethren…and the media put that to Don Brash and said ‘why don’t you do that?'” Ryan told Crikey.

So what will Ryan do if the Brethren decide to publicly endorse him in the lead up to the November 25 Victorian election?

“I can’t do anything about it… I’m the proverbial innocent victim in this…,” says Ryan, all I can do is disassociate myself from them, “which I have, in spades.” 

Meanwhile, over the Tasman, did the Brethren score an own goal in last year’s NZ election? Yesterday Jim Anderton, and leader of Labour’s left leaning coalition partner the Progressive Party, put out a punchy press release bagging the Brethren: “You misled. You played dirty. You dishonoured the causes for which you spent lots of money… By the way, your campaign… may have actually helped. My majority increased by 5372 votes – or 169%. Made my day!”