Hillsong accused of spending that ‘would embarrass a Kardashian’

Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to reveal the  finances of Hillsong Church.

Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to reveal the finances of Hillsong Church. Photo: AAP

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has accused Hillsong of using church funds for shopping that “would embarrass a Kardashian” and “treating private jets like Ubers”.

Mr Wilkie has tabled documents in federal parliament that he said showed examples of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion at the Sydney-based church.

Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Wilkie accused Hillsong Church of “criminality” as he outlined expensive trips and luxury purchases.

He also said the Pentecostal church earned $80 million more in Australian annual income than it reported publicly.

Hillsong responded, saying Mr Wilkie’s claims were “out of context” and “in many respects wrong” and related to untested allegations made by an employee in an ongoing legal case.

“It is disappointing he made no effort to contact us first. If he did so we would have answered his questions and provided him with financial records to address his concerns,” said a Hillsong statement.

“Hillsong has sought independent legal and accounting advice on these matters since the employee involved in the legal case made these claims, and we believe that we have complied with all legal and compliance requirements.

“We have filed our defence and will provide evidence at the appropriate time.”

Mr Wilkie pointed the finger at the Australian Tax Office, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission for not acting after they were given the documents.

“That is a failure of regulatory oversight every bit as alarming as Hillsong’s criminality,” he said.

The original church was established by Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie in 1983.

Mr Wilkie said a whistle blower had provided him with the church’s financial records and board papers.

He said that while members of the congregation thought the money was going to the “poor box”, large amounts were being spent by members of the church.

Mr Wilkie said in 2021, four members of the Houston family spent three days at a luxury retreat in Cancun Mexico using $150,000 of Church money.

“These documents show former leader Brian Houston treating private jets like Ubers, again all with church money,” he told parliament.

“For example, in one three-month period Brian Houston’s trips cost $55,000, $52,000, $30,000, $22,000 and $2000,” he told parliament.

“Meanwhile, the new head of Hillsong, Phil Dooley, has told churchgoers he only flies economy.

“But these documents show him clocking up $58,000 in business class flights for him and his daughter to Guatemala, $42,000 in business class flights to Mexico and $32,000 in business class flights from Capetown to Sydney via the US.”

Mr Wilkie listed a string of luxury purchases he said would put reality TV stars the Kardashians to shame.

“For example, $6500 Cartier watch for Bobbie Houston, $2500 for Louis Vuitton luggage, a $2500 watch for Phil Dooley, two watches worth $15,000 for Joel and Julia A’Bell, shopping sprees for designer clothes at Saks Fifth Avenue and even $16,000 for custom skateboards.

“Hillsong followers believe the money they put in the poor box goes to the poor, but these documents show how that money is used to do the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian.”

Last year founder Brian Houston pleaded not guilty to charges of concealing his father’s abuse of a young boy in 1970.

Hillsong said it was a “different church now” and had been “open and transparent with our congregation about past governance failures”.

“Over the past twelve months we have engaged independent, professional assistance to overhaul our governance and accountability procedures,” said a statement.

“We are working hard to set a course for the future that ensures our structures are accountable, transparent, and honouring to God.

“Anything less has the potential to hinder our primary focus, which is to be a community of believers focused on the life-changing power of Jesus, driven to bring hope to the world around us.”

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