Thursday, April 3, 2008Australia's Department of Defence spent thousands of dollars on controversial development seminars, Australian media reported Wednesday. The seminars are run by a San Francisco, California-based training company called Landmark Education. The company evolved from Erhard Seminars Training "est", and has faced criticism regarding its techniques and its use of unpaid labor.
Australia's Defence Minister Warren Snowdon said that the government is in the process of reviewing Defence Department expenditures on career development. "We're in the process now of doing an audit, completely unrelated with anything to do with Landmark, which is being undertaken into learning and development to make sure that they meet our needs. ... We have to be very sure that the courses that people do undertake are relevant, appropriate and indeed in line with what community expectations might be," said Snowdon in an appearance on ABC Radio.
The Australian and Australia's ABC News reported that Landmark Education had been listed in France as a "possible cult" in the mid 1990s. When asked about this on ABC Radio, a spokeswoman for the company in the United States, Deborah Beroset, responded: "What happened in France was that a commission established by the French parliament issued a report in which they listed almost 200 organisations as being possible cults ... We were never contacted. We were inappropriately included in that list".
In a program which aired Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program AM reported that Australia's Defence Department spent at least AUD12,270 of taxpayer funds to send government employees to Landmark Education courses. According to AM, the Defence Department said it does not appear that further funds have been sent to Landmark Education since 2004.
In a statement released by the Defence Department, the government stated: "A search of Defence records does not indicate exactly how many individuals attended courses with this training provider, however it is believed it was a small number of individuals. ... Defence has been unable to determine individual reasons for why groups within Defence choose this training provider."
AM also reported that the use of unpaid labor by Landmark Education "has attracted the attention of the US and French governments," and that some individuals in the mental health field have accused the company of brainwashing. When asked about the allegations by mental health experts that Landmark Education's techniques amounted to brainwashing, Deborah Beroset responded: "Well, there is absolutely no credence to that whatsoever."
In a March 9 article in the Herald Sun, Peter Rolfe reported that taxpayer money was used to send at least 37 police and government staff from Victoria, Australia to seminars run by Landmark Education. Police and Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said that "Decisions on the appropriateness of staff attending courses by Landmark Education are made by individual managers who remain best-placed to assess the development needs of their staff," but State Liberal MP Murray Thompson told the Herald Sun that the funds should have been put towards fighting crime. Apple Inc., Reebok and Mercedes-Benz have sent employees to Landmark Education seminars, according to a spokeswoman for Landmark.
In October 2006, Landmark Education took legal action against Google, YouTube, the Internet Archive and a website owner in Queensland, Australia in attempts to remove criticism of its products from the Internet. The company sought a subpoena under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in an attempt to discover the identity of an anonymous critic who uploaded a 2004 French documentary of the Landmark Forum to the Internet. "Voyage au pays des nouveaux gourous" (Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus) was produced by Pièces à Conviction, a French investigative journalism news program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation represented the anonymous critic and the Internet Archive, and Landmark withdrew its subpoena in November 2006 in exchange for a promise from the anonymous critic not to repost the video.
Landmark Education is descended from Erhard Seminars Training, also called "est", which was founded by Werner Erhard. est began in 1971, and Erhard's company Werner Erhard and Associates repackaged the course as "The Forum" in 1985. Associates of Erhard bought the license to his "technology" and incorporated Landmark Education in California in 1991.
- "Defence sends staff on 'cult' courses: The Department of Defence has spent thousands of dollars on professional development courses run by an organisation listed in France as a possible cult". The Australian, April 2, 2008
- Daniel Hoare "Defence Dept under fire over professional development spending". AM (ABC Radio), April 2, 2008
- "Defence workers trained by 'cult': The Defence Department has admitted some of its personnel have undertaken professional development courses run by an organisation that had been listed as a possible cult". ABC News (Australia), April 2, 2008
- "Defence Dept under fire over professional development courses (AM)". AM (ABC Radio), April 2, 2008
- "Govt doing audit of Defence Dept professional development courses (AM)". AM (ABC Radio), April 2, 2008
- Peter Rolfe "We pay for seminars: Taxpayers are picking up the bill to send police officers and bureaucrats on a controversial personal enlightenment course". Herald Sun, March 9, 2008
- K.C. Jones "Landmark Drops Copyright Infringement Subpoenas On Google And Anonymous Critic: Landmark sought a subpoena to find out who posted hidden camera footage from an event held by the French branch of the organization". InformationWeek, December 1, 2006
- "Landmark and the Internet Archive". Electronic Frontier Foundation, November 29, 2006
- Traci Hukill "The est of Friends: Werner Erhard's protégés and siblings carry the torch for a '90s incarnation of the '70s 'training' that some of us just didn't get". Metro Silicon Valley, July 9, 1998