Megachurch Hillsong has always maintained that it does not play politics, despite having several prominent Liberal Party members in its congregation. The organisation claims on its website that it does not make political donations.
But during research I did for Central Magazine I discovered a different story.
Less than two months before the 2007 NSW State Election, Hillsong made a political donation to Heffron Labor MP Kristina Keneally, who is now the Minister for Ageing and Disability. At the time Hillsong had purchased land in her seat where it planned to build a super church with a stadium seating 2700 people and a seven-storey office block.
The $600 donation was revealed in disclosures made to the NSW Electoral Commission by Keneally, showing the donation was from tickets purchased for a Keneally fundraiser featuring NSW Planning Minister Frank Sartor as a speaker. Hillsong has since lodged a development application with the Central Sydney Planning Committee, comprised of three Sydney Councillors and four Sartor appointees.
The amount donated was paltry, spare change for an organisation believed to rake in over $50 million a year in income. But what was really surprising was that in making the donation Hillsong breached its own corporate governance policy. It claims: “Hillsong Church’s objectives are distinct and independent from any political agenda. Hillsong Church does not make financial contributions to or align itself with any political party or candidate.”
When approached for comment about the money, Hillsong insisted it was not a donation. Apparently the NSW Electoral Commission had it wrong, as did Keneally.
It’s not that Hillsong was trying to “buy” Keneally or that she could be bought, what’s significant is that the donation contradicts its constant, and continuing claims to be apolitical.
It also calls into question Hillsong’s status as a legal charity which is not required to open its books to scrutiny or be legally responsible to company regulators such as ASIC or the ASX.