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Dear health minister,

Just a quick note to pass on the appreciation of countless people who (I am told) are celebrating the church rehabilitation industry’s coming demise.

Those are the precise words one of my closest sources used after hearing that you had called for an urgent briefing on how and why the Morrison government funded the Pentecostal-linked Esther Foundation and the one80TC rehab facility which has very close ties to Hillsong church.

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It will indeed be interesting to see how the Morrison government’s processes worked and what it tells us about the integrity — or lack thereof — in how it dispensed public money through the Health Department.

And what of the role of bureaucrats? Sports rorts we know about. Rehab rorts? That’s a whole other chapter. 

I know you are calling for information from your department but there are some things they might not be aware of, which is why I am writing. I only found out these things after our stories were published last week.

The new information might just give you the ammunition to ask:  what role did the Morrison Pentecostals have in allocating close to $2 million in taxpayers funds to the one80TC rehab facility? And how in heaven’s name did the Australian taxpayer ever get dragooned into paying for it? And how did one80TC’s activities ever get called rehab?

In my stories last week I danced around the question of how closely the one80TC rehab facility was tied to Hillsong Church. Jacob Harrison, who spoke to us for our stories, called one80TC “a Hillsong indoctrination centre with a mild interest in rehab“. (Harrison had landed into rehab at one80TC direct from a psychiatric ward and found himself washing Brian Houston’s car as a “volunteer”.) Frankly I didn’t appreciate how right he was. 

Another source has since pointed me in the right direction. It emerges that the Hillsong Foundation (which supports the church’s outreach works in Australia and overseas — in Africa, for example) donates about $300,00 to $400,000 a year to one80TC. 

According to the source it is a “feature recipient” every year in Hillsong’s Heart for the House Appeal, held each June to drum up donations.

Most interesting is a report which gives the metrics on Hillsong’s donation to one80TC, which it describes as a “Christ-centred organisation” which is “more than just a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program”.

“It’s been an exciting year for one80TC, with 80 salvations, 37 baptisms in 2022 alone, and eight of our ex-one80TC students choosing to stay on for our graduate program, where they volunteer with the ministry for 12 months after completing the program,” it says.

Eighty “salvations” and 37 baptisms? And we are not even halfway through the year. 

As my source points out, Hillsong records these numbers as if the success of the rehab program is based on whether or not you become a Christian.

Essentially, my Hillsong source says, it means the church is “buying” conversions by taking advantage of people at their most vulnerable. (Their words, not mine.) 

The one80TC coffee lounge, held after each Sunday evening service at Hillsong’s Hills campus, is apparently run purely by volunteers and is the only time and place where the “inmates” are allowed to see their families. So basically, my source concludes, the families of one80TC rehab residents are also being forced to attend Hillsong Church so they can also be “brainwashed”.

I know also that one80TC is signed up to the idea that the most common underlying cause of addiction is childhood trauma which, they say, includes abuse and “fatherlessness”.

One80TC quotes one Bill Muehlenberg as the authority on fatherlessness (rarely talked about in Australia, the facility says) and cites his paper, “The Facts on Fatherlessness”, which he prepared for the Fatherhood Foundation of the Australian Family Association in 2002.

Muehlenberg is a conservative evangelical writer with a large following. According to the Christian news site Eternity News he is “concerned with the shift in culture away from the traditional family, as well as loss of freedom of speech, and the rise of the progressive left”.

“But rather than a solution in politics, he places his hope in revival,” the site reported when he was cancelled by Facebook.

If you peel back the layers you find, too, that the Australian Family Association is a creature of the socially conservative National Civic Council, established by BA Santamaria. (But you probably knew that.) 

Minister, this is not the kind of intel you might get from departmental officials who, I suggest, are not likely to have ever set foot inside one80TC or Hillsong Church.

But can they answer the simple question: what is the rationale for giving public money to a rehab facility which measures its success by the number of souls it saves for Christ? Did Scott Morrison or any other government member hijack the grants assessment process? To what end?

Looking forward to the outcome of your inquiries.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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