UM-linked events could be banned by council

EVENTS run by 'esoteric healing' business Universal Medicine could be banned from council spaces in one Northern Rivers shire.

Ballina Shire Council will this month consider a proposed policy change to ban dealings with certain groups, and a plan to cancel UM-run events in council venues.

Councillor Keith Williams said he and deputy mayor Nathan Willis had lodged a notice of motion which will go before next week's council meeting.

"The motion proposes two things: first, to amend council's statement of business ethics," Cr Williams said.

The second part of the motion seeks to give the council's general manager authorisation to withdraw bookings with Universal Medicine.

Cr Williams said the motion was a specific response to NSW Supreme Court jury findings from a recent civil case, during which UM leader, Goonellabah-based Serge Benhayon, unsuccessfully tried to sue his former client Esther Rockett for defamation.

Among the imputations which were covered by Ms Rockett's truth defence were statements that Mr Benhayon "engages in inappropriate conduct towards women", "is guilty of inappropriate behaviour with children", "is not a fit person to hold a Working with Children Certificate" and that Universal Medicine is a "socially harmful cult". Mr Benhayon has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.

Cr Williams said while there had been no criminal allegations made against Mr Benhayon in relation to these matters, he felt the council had a responsibility to residents.

One such event that could be impacted by the motion is the annual Girl to Woman Festival, scheduled to return to the Lennox Head Community Centre in January.

The Girl to Woman Festival is run by Women's Esoteric Health, an organisation that's based on Serge Benhayon's UM teachings and was founded by his daughter, Natalie Benhayon.

On their website, organisers say the event "supports girls and women to feel deeply appreciated by their whole community".

Cr Williams said he'd heard residents' concerns about UM for "about two to three years" but he felt the recent jury findings made it easier to address those.

"The jury findings coming out of that case that have, I think, raised a high level of community concern," Cr Williams said.

"This is just trying to reflect that concern.

"I'm not making any allegations.

"I do think in this context, council has a responsibility.

"We have to be vigilant.

"If we have a jury verdict which is quite clear ... that may give us cause for concern.

"This is really a statement about business ethics and who council chooses to do business with."

Cr Williams has also shared on social media a petition calling for a boycott on UM-affiliated events.

He said he had "no connection" with the group behind this petition, which has also launched a Facebook page calling for a boycott on the Girl to Woman Festival.

Ballina mayor David Wright was recently criticised for speaking at a UM-linked event, titled The Joy of Ageing Esoterically, on October 1.

In last month's council meeting, Cr Eoin Johnston questioned the mayor about his involvement.

Cr Wright said: "someone asked me to go along".

"There wasn't anything altruistic or anything there," Cr Wright said.

"So you don't investigate who the body is?" Cr Johnston asked.

Cr Wright told The Northern Star it was common for him to give a welcome speech at events in the community and that was the extent of his involvement.

"It wasn't presented as a UM thing," Cr Wright said.

"I don't have anything to do with Serge.

"There was nothing there that worried me."

In light of the notice of motion, Cr Wright said he'd visited the Girl to Woman Festival in the past and witnessed nothing untoward.

He said it was not appropriate to exclude an event "because of one person or one group".

"Do you then stop all church groups coming in?" he said.

"The organisation hasn't been found guilty of anything."

Organisers of The Girl to Woman Festival, now in its fifth year, declined to answer questions from The Northern Star.

They have instead issued a statement, saying the event's organisers had been subject to "continued harassment" on social media.

In the statement, they said "false information" and "moral panic" about the event had been circulating online.

"We are aware that the Festival is being attacked on the grounds of a jury's findings regarding a civil defamation action taken out by Serge Benhayon, founder of Universal Medicine, in relation to prolific blogging about him and his organisation," the statement said.

"The Girl to Woman Festival is not in the position to comment about a court case that is still officially in process."

The statement confirmed The Girl to Woman Festival is "primarily run" by Esoteric Women's Health, and that this organisation was founded by Natalie Benhayon.

"Esoteric Women's Health openly cites Universal Medicine's extensive teachings on health and wellbeing as a foundational inspiration, yet it remains the case that Universal Medicine is not the organiser of The Girl To Woman Festival," they said.

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