Who In The World Is Katherine Harper?

Katherine Harper may have no religious affiliations now, but she was brought up by devoutly religious parents, and her partner was once President of the Church of Scientology.

On 23 August an opinion piece appeared in the Fairfax Press written by one Katherine Harper, who explained why she would be voting NO to marriage equality. The paper explained Dr Katherine Harper completed her PhD at the University of Sydney. She has since worked in international development and foreign affairs policy. But who is she?

Dr Katherine Harper holds a PhD in Classics and Ancient History from the University of Sydney. She now “works in the aid sector and has an interest in the strategic nature of development assistance,” according to her bio on the Development Policy Center, ANU website. Her LinkedIn profile, however, places her in Peter Dutton’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection, International Division.

She is a lady of many talents beside penning rather illogical opinion articles: she’s a dancer with the Canberra Dance Theatre, and even appeared on the back of Nikki Webster’s 2004 Let’s Dance album cover!

In her piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, Katherine claimed to be “a 30-year-old woman of liberal upbringing and no particular religious affiliation”. But this is a mite deceptive and doesn’t tell the whole story.

A glance at her PhD thesis reveals the names of her family:  father Alan, mother Lauris and brother David Harper. Lauris Harper serves on the Church Council of St Stephens’ Uniting Church, Sydney, where Alan Harper is lay preacher and Chairman of the Congregation. Very active and devout members of the church.

“We are also grateful for all that Alan Harper has done to bring his amazing knowledge and understanding of the “Good News” to those who attend the mid-week services. We have indeed been very blessed to have inspiring and energetic people to lead us during this long period of time when we have been without our own Minister.”

Katherine joined her father in his ministry on at least one occasion, as her mother Lauris wrote in the church newsletter:

“In contrast to St Stephen’s the Crookwell minister is also responsible for three other far flung community services at Wheeo, Jerrara, and Bigga on a rotational basis. So Alan set forth one Sunday with our daughter Katherine to run a service at Wheeo. About fourteen people attended including a number of children, some local, a couple from Goulbourn and some from Crookwell itself.”

This, then, is the ‘liberal upbringing’ she wrote about. But we all know that as they grow up, children often move away from their parents’ values and beliefs as they seek to establish their independent existence. As Katherine seems to have done. But she may not have abandoned “religious affiliation” entirely.

In the remarkably breezy and informal Acknowledgements section of her PhD thesis, Katherine is effusive in her thanks to one Mark Hanna.   She wrote:

“I must also thank Mark Hanna for your endless patience, understanding, and encouragement. Particularly in the last few months you have continually reassured me and never gotten frustrated by my absence or moodiness. Your faithful support during the final stages of this PhD has been invaluable.”

Here they are together

Mark also endorses Katherine’s accomplishments on her LinkedIn page, although her CV does not show she ever worked for him. Her Facebook profile picture shows her with her arms around his neck.

Hanna is a lawyer at Mark Hanna Lawyers, whose offices, by a curious coincidence, are right next to Katherine’s parents’ church.

“Mark Hanna Lawyers is located directly opposite NSW Parliament House, at 195 Macquarie Street. Look for the pharmacy next to St Stephens Uniting Church. Head into the foyer and catch the elevator to Level 5.”

Hanna is, or was, a highly placed member of the Church of Scientology (aka the Church of the New Faith). In 1983 he acted for them in the famous High Court case** in which the Church claimed tax exemptions on the basis it was a religion (scroll to the end for more). On his website he writes:

“Hanna is also proud of his role in the notable High Court case the Church of the New Faith v Pay Roll Tax Commissioner of Victoria. This case provided the legal framework by which religious institutions are defined in Australia and has been used since throughout Europe and the US as a leading authority.”

In 1984 the young Hanna (pictured) was the ‘national spokesman for Scientology” – 24-25 November 1984,  Weekend Australian. 

He later become President of the Church of Scientology in Australia, a trustee of the Australian Church for more than ten years, and Asian/Pacific Public Affairs Director until 1997. During this time he was known as Rev. Mark Hanna.

Hanna has a daughter, Scarlett, with his ex-wife Vicki, who also went on to be President of the Church. Scarlett, who was brought up within the church, detailed her upbringing in an exclusive interview on ABC 1’s Lateline

“The daughter of the president of the Church of Scientology in Australia has spoken out against the organisation, describing it as toxic and accusing the church of tearing some families apart. Scarlett Hanna has detailed life growing up in the former Cadet Org: a group set up for the children of Scientology’s elite unit, the Sea Org.

“The best way I can describe it is cattle,” Ms Hanna said of their treatment. We were property of the organisation.”

Ms Hanna is the only child of Vicki Dunstan [previously known as Vicki Hanna], president of the Church of Scientology in Australia, and Mark Hanna, a former Asian/Pacific director of public affairs for the church.”

So Katherine Harper’s ‘non-religious’ view on marriage equality could have been influenced by her parents deep involvement in the Uniting Church, or it may have been influenced by her involvement with Scientology*. Her attachment to traditional Christian values and the importance of the traditional, Biblical view of marriage certainly seem unperturbed by her partner’s status as a divorcee.

  • She was brought up by two devoutly religious parents.
  • She attended at least one ministry with her father as an adult.
  • Her partner was once the Reverend Mark Hanna, the leader of one of Australia’s most notorious churches.

Under these circumstances her portrait of herself as a typical Aussie woman with a secular upbringing and secular reasons for objecting to marriage equality seems, to say the least, somewhat misleading. There is more she could, and should, have disclosed.

Many many thanks to Chrys Stevenson, researcher extraordinaire, for her diligent digging out of these facts!


*On marriage equality, the Wikipedia entry on Scientology says:

The Church of Scientology has had a controversial history regarding LGBT issues and same-sex marriage. In recent years, the Church has publicly embraced the subject more so than in the past. In 2005, a spokesperson for the Church told the New York Daily News that the Church had “not taken an official position on gay marriage, and that members prefer not to talk about it.” In 2008 the Church supported Prop 8 in California which banned same-sex marriages, even in counties where they had been performed before. In 2009, award-winning writer Paul Haggis quit the church due to its apparent stance on homosexuality.

** This was a famous case played out in the High Court in 1983 in which the “Church of the New Faith”, better known as the Church of Scientology, claimed tax exemptions on the basis it was a religion. The Pay Roll Tax Commissioner challenged that view, but the High Court Justices famously ruled that earning legal status as a religion, carries no implication that an organization is, in any way, reputable:

Administrators and Judges must resist the temptation to hold that groups or institutions are not religious because claimed religious beliefs or practices seem absurd, fraudulent, evil or novel; or because the group or institution is new, the number of adherents small, the leaders hypocrites, or because they seek to obtain the financial and other privileges which come with religious status. In the eyes of the law, religions are equal. There is no religious club with a monopoly of State privileges for its members. The policy of the law is ‘one in, all in’.

Charlatanism is a necessary price of religious freedom, and if a self-proclaimed teacher persuades others to believe in a religion which he propounds, lack of sincerity or integrity on his part is not incompatible with the religious character of the beliefs, practices and observances accepted by his followers.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)