Charities watchdog probes Hillsong Church fraud claims
Claims of fraud, money laundering and tax evasion against Hillsong Church are being investigated by the charities watchdog.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to claim tens of thousands of leaked financial records and documents showed funds were misused to bankroll lavish habits including "the kind of shopping that would embarrass a Kardashian".
Mr Wilklie alleged the information was provided to the Australian Taxation Office and Australian Securities and Investments Commission under whistleblower protections but they failed to act.
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commissioner Sue Woodward said she rarely commented on investigations but wanted to make it clear action had already been taken.
"Although it was stated in parliament that (the watchdog) has not acted, I can confirm we are investigating concerns raised about Hillsong Church charities," Ms Woodward said.
"Hillsong has stated publicly that it is fully co-operating with regulatory authorities."
Hillsong disputes the claims, saying Mr Wilkie's remarks were out of context and based on "untested allegations" made by an employee in an ongoing legal case.
The Tasmanian MP claimed the documents showed former Hillsong leader Brian Houston, who stepped down from the role last year, was "treating private jets like Ubers".
In a three-month period Houston used church money for trips costing $179,000, Mr Wilkie said, and the documents showed four Houston family members and friends spent $150,000 of church money on a luxury retreat in Cancun, Mexico, in 2021.
It is also alleged the new head of Hillsong, Phil Dooley, spent tens of thousands of dollars on business-class flights for him and his daughter.
"Sending millions of dollars of Australian charitable donations overseas is illegal in some circumstances," Mr Wilkie said in parliament's Federation Chamber on Thursday.
Mr Wilkie also alleged Hillsong earns $80 million more in Australian annual income than it reports publicly.
Education Minister Jason Clare said it was important the serious allegations were examined.
"If you are a member of the congregation and you've made donations to the church, then you'd be legitimately worried about where your money has gone here," Mr Clare told Seven's Sunrise program.
The tax office said it took tip-offs seriously but was unable to inform whistle-blowers about any action taken, although it did not address Mr Wilkie's claims directly.
The security and investments commission says it is not responsible for regulating Hillsong as it is a registered charity.
In response to the allegations, a Hillsong statement said they were made under parliamentary privilege and were "in many respects wrong" and it was disappointing Mr Wilkie made no effort to contact the church first.
"If he did so we would have answered his questions and provided him with financial records to address his concerns," the statement said.
"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 we have complied with all legal and compliance requirements."
Houston is fighting accusations he concealed his late father's child sexual abuse and has pleaded not guilty to a charge of concealing the crime until his father's death in 2004.
The case will resume in June.
Hillsong announced in April 2022 it had accepted Houston's resignation after it was found he had breached the church's moral code by having inappropriate relations with two women.