Indigenous development grants to Hillsong‘s benevolent arm have gone almost entirely to employing and providing offices for church staff, with only a trickle reaching Aborigines.
In one case, Hillsong Emerge spent $315,000 in federal funds employing seven of its own staff in Sydney to administer a “micro-credit” project that made only six loans to Aborigines worth an average of $2856 each.
Hillsong also failed to enable a single Aborigine to become self-employed under a $610,968 federal grant to encourage indigenous entrepreneurship.
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The revelations are contained in answers from senator Eric Abetz, representing Employment Minister Kevin Andrews, to a detailed series of questions on notice from Labor’s indigenous affairs spokesman, Chris Evans.
They show that far more funds are spent on Hillsong staffers and administration than actual service delivery. One federal grant paid $965,421 to Hillsong Emerge to administer $280,000 in loan funds.
Senator Abetz said that when it came to the $610,968 Hillsong Emerge received to run indigenous “enterprise hubs” in Redfern and Mount Druitt in Sydney, Hillsong had advised that “to their knowledge, none of those assisted have moved to full self-employment”.
When The Australian visited the Redfern “enterprise hub” in December, it found flyers in the foyer encouraging local businesses to pay up to $1800 to advertise in the Christian Business Directory published by Hillsong Emerge, but no information on how Hillsong could help Aborigines.
The $610,968 grant was approved in just three weeks, and Hillsong faced no competition since it was the only applicant.
Labor figures have expressed suspicions about the grants and the Liberal Party’s links with Hillsong.
Liberal MP Louise Markus, a Hillsong church member and former Hillsong Emerge officer who narrowly won the outer Sydney seat of Greenway from Labor at the last election with the help of Hillsong Church members, wrote a letter of support for a separate $414,000 grant.
The Federal Government will come under further pressure this week, with the Opposition planning to grill it over Hillsong at Senate estimates hearings.
Senator Evans yesterday told The Australian that the micro-credit program, “has so far been deeply flawed in its execution”.
“If the Government’s agenda is to help disadvantaged indigenous Australians start their own businesses then Hillsong needs to be held accountable for what is, on the face of it, a very poor outcome,” he said. Senator Evans said there had been “no transparent, public evaluation of the pilot program – just academic articles before it began and Hillsong promotional material”.
A portion of the $610,968 grant was devoted to Hillsong’s Shine program, an activity directly associated with Hillsong Church.
In Senator Abetz’s answers, he said part of the Shine Basic program “focuses on values of worth, strength and purpose” and includes “journalling”, described by the senator as “writing down dreams, goals, plans”.
Hillsong Emerge has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its indigenous development programs.
Yesterday, spokeswoman Maria Ieroianni referred all questions to the federal body responsible for administering the grants, Indigenous Business Australia.
IBA’s deputy general manager, Ian Myers, said the funds covered pilot programs, that the programs had been reviewed, and that a decision would be taken by IBA’s board as to whether to proceed with further funding.