Hillsong Church‘s benevolent arm has parted with its third source of federal funds in a month, amid allegations the organisation misused millions of dollars in grants intended for Aboriginal communities.
A funding arrangement in which Indigenous Business Australia provided Hillsong Emerge with $610,968 to run “enterprise hubs” to encourage indigenous entrepreneurship – but which failed to enable a single Aborigine to become fully self-employed – has been halted.
This follows a decision by IBA to dump a funding relationship with Hillsong worth $1.6 million for “micro-credit” loans, and a federal Justice Department decision to strip it of $414,479 for community crime prevention.
Hillsong issued a statement on its website yesterday saying it had decided not to apply for further funding after a meeting with IBA officers last week.
“We have decided to fund, operate and deliver these services to the community ourselves as we recognise that our objectives and those of IBA about the future of Micro Enterprise Development in Australia differ,” Hillsong Emerge chief executive Leigh Coleman said.
NSW Labor MP Ian West, who raised many of the allegations against Hillsong Emerge, called for “a full and transparent inquiry and report on this whole sorry mess”.
Weeks earlier, in answer to questions on notice from federal Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Chris Evans, the Howard Government provided figures showing that only a trickle of IBA funding for Hillsong Emerge had reached the Aboriginal community.
In one case, Hillsong Emerge spent $315,000 employing seven of its own staff to administer a “micro-credit” project that made six loans to Aborigines worth an average of $2856 each.
At a Senate estimates committee hearing, IBA revealed that the $140,808 of “enterprise hub” money was spent on Hillsong’s “Shine” program. IBA said the Shine program had aimed to give young people business skills and opportunities, but conceded it had mainly targeted Year 7 and Year 8 schoolgirls with “Christian values” and “confidence building” programs.
Hillsong is becoming an embarrassment for the Government, after John Howard personally launched several Hillsong events, including the crime prevention program.
In December, the Prime Minister said he would be “very surprised” if there had been any misuse of public funds by Hillsong, adding: “I think it’s a wonderful organisation, a wonderful and active branch of the Christian church.”
Senator Evans called on IBA to explain its role in the affair.