Hillsong Emerge National Community Crime Prevention Funding



About this Item
SubjectsAborigines: New South Wales; Churches: Christian; Religions and Sects; Fraud; Government: Federal
SpeakersWest The Hon Ian
BusinessAdjournment


    HILLSONG EMERGE NATIONAL COMMUNITY CRIME PREVENTION FUNDING
Page: 19162


    The Hon. IAN WEST [10.11 p.m.]: I raise some disturbing matters concerning Hillsong, the business unit of Hillsong Emerge, and the Federal Government. The first matter concerns the Chief Executive Officer of Hillsong Emerge, Mr Leigh Coleman, who recently attempted to pay off the Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association in return for its silence on Hillsong Emerge's rip-off of taxpayer funding of just under $415,000 from the National Community Crime Prevention Program, administered by the Federal Attorney-General's Department, for use in Blacktown and Riverstone. It appears that Mr Coleman is not only acting in a decidedly un-Christian manner but perpetuating the destructive approach of Europeans since 1788 when Aborigines were moved out of their land and had their day-to-day lives controlled by a mission manager appointed by the Government of the time.

    The "mission manager" approach is alive and well in Australia today, and continues a culture of lies, deceit, welfare and dependency that has done so much damage to Aboriginal communities. It appears that Hillsong Emerge has misused the Riverstone Aboriginal community to get taxpayers' money for its own purposes. Hillsong Emerge has deceived the local people, and when confronted by community representatives Vilma Ryan, Sandra Bell, Chris McBridge and Dean Bell, the chief executive officer has lamely tried to dole out some of the money in return for their co-option. The problem for Mr Coleman is that the application that Hillsong Emerge has called its own plagiarises proposals put forward to it by local community groups that were made in good faith as part of a joint application.

    On top of that, Hillsong's application then misrepresents the real situation in the community, stating that the local area is being overrun by Aboriginal gangs. This is simply a lie, calculated to deliver Hillsong Emerge a bucket of Federal taxpayers' money—and it has worked. Philip Ruddock's department rejected an application made by Hillsong Emerge in concert with local community organisations, but then approved an application made by Hillsong without the knowledge of local communities. I am concerned about the assessment of those applications and the criteria that were applied, the approval and recommendation process, what evidence was provided to satisfy decision makers that Hillsong had the capacity to deliver the project, what evidence was provided that supported the need for the projects, and what monitoring and accountability mechanisms are in place to ensure the money is properly spent.

    The Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association was formed recently to empower the local community and help them take control of their lives. But it appears that Hillsong is doing the opposite, and that taxpayer funding which is needed for local disadvantaged communities is now being channelled directly into Hillsong's bank accounts. In August this year the Prime Minister said:

    The Australian Government has provided $8 million towards strengthening grassroots initiatives to assist in the prevention of crime in the region.

    But Hillsong is benefiting from the theft of "grassroots initiatives" of local groups. Later the Prime Minister said:

    This funding is in addition to $50 million for crime prevention projects that demonstrate strong community partnerships, target priority areas and provide ongoing benefit to the community.

    It appears that Hillsong has failed the Prime Minister's criteria of what the funding is for. The announcement came in the same month as a Hillsong Emerge function that cost $40 a head. Held on 25 August in Redfern, the function was called "Inspiring Australians" and was co-sponsored by the Australian Government. On the letterhead of Hillsong Emerge was the crest of the Australian Government, with a note at the bottom stating, "Donations of $2 and over are tax deductible." Is it appropriate for the Australian Government to assist Hillsong Emerge's business and fundraising ventures in this manner? Where does the money go? I am concerned about whether the arrangements adhered to the legitimate use of taxpayers' money and resources. The joint invitation also canvassed a showcase of products and services produced by Hillsong Emerge as part of its micro enterprise development program that targets credit provision, training and mentoring at disadvantaged communities.

    Hillsong Emerge is using its Government-endorsed and tax-free status to develop what Hillsong Emerge refers to on its web site as "increasingly other financial products like savings and insurance". Its parent, Hillsong, brought in $50 million last year, about half in cash donations from people attending its services and courses. I share community concerns about the appropriateness of Hillsong receiving taxpayer funding and credibility in pushing an ideological and religious approach—especially in the provision of counselling and support, and in delivering "financial literacy" and "independence" for disadvantaged communities and individuals. There also appears to be a crossover of Hillsong Emerge and Hillsong's business, membership and recruitment activities. Hillsong Emerge's web site contains a section on the micro enterprise development program that refers to the personal development course.

    It appears that Hillsong Emerge channels people into its religious and fundraising activities through its Government-supported programs. The welcome comments on the Hillsong web site read:

    As a church, we are putting heightened emphasis on seeing souls come to Christ between now and the end of the year. We've always been blessed in this area, but we know we can see that increase.

    Hillsong Emerge has as part of its vision statement the following:

    Yes, the Church that I see is so dependent on the Holy Spirit—

    [Time expired.]