NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge has used parliamentary privilege to link Hillsong Christian Church pastor Brian Houston’s relationships with prominent Australians, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with advice to a child sex victim that Mr Houston will not be charged with failing to report allegations about his father to police.
Mr Shoebridge named Mr Morrison, former NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione and former NSW Premier Mike Baird as friends of Mr Houston in an address to NSW Parliament alleging there is “compelling evidence” to prosecute Brian Houston after matters raised at the child abuse royal commission.
The speech followed advice to one of Frank Houston’s victims that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Brian Houston for failing to report allegations to police after they were raised with him in 1999.
“This weekend Mr Brian Houston will continue to preach, and this weekend (the victim) AHA will continue to demand the justice he deserves,” Mr Shoebridge told NSW Parliament in a speech shortly after midnight on Wednesday, in which he alleged the current police commissioner had not responded to a letter requesting urgent action.
Mr Shoebridge told parliament the victim, identified as AHA at the royal commission, is suffering a life-threatening illness “and is concerned justice will not be served in his lifetime”.
The speech came two days after Mr Morrison delivered a national apology to child sex survivors in which he acknowledged survivors wanted action rather than words from authorities.
“The problem is that despite this week’s apology the powerful still seem to be immune from prosecution. No-one, regardless of their friends, should be beyond the reach of the law,” Mr Shoebridge said.
The commission was told Mr Houston’s father Frank, who established the Sydney Christian Life Centre which later became the Hillsong Church, sexually abused a boy from the age of seven in the late 1960s and early 1970s while staying with the boy’s family. The boy was identified as AHA at the commission.
It is now 49 years since the abuse started, 19 years since Brian Houston was aware of it, and three years after the royal commission delivered its damning report, yet nothing has happened.NSW Greens MP and justice spokesperson David Shoebridge.
“This did not happen once. It happened numerous times – in the boy’s home, in different churches and on an evangelical camp,” Mr Shoebridge said.
The abuse was disclosed to a number of church pastors in 1998, including two on the church’s NSW executive, and in 1999 the allegations were raised with Brian Houston, then the national president of the Assemblies of God in Australia..
The royal commission found Brian Houston and other senior church members failed to report the allegations to police or the NSW Commission for Children and Young People; that Mr Houston’s response repeatedly failed the victim and that he failed to deal with his own conflict of interest while leading the church. Brian Houston also had a role in a $10,000 payment to the victim, the commission was told.
“It is now 49 years since the abuse started, 19 years since Brian Houston was aware of it, and three years after the royal commission delivered its damning report, yet nothing has happened,” Mr Shoebridge told NSW Parliament.
“Neither Brian Houston nor any of the Hillsong Church's leaders have faced any legal repercussions for their failure to report an indictable offence,” he said.
Mr Shoebridge said AHA was told there is insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution under section 316 of the NSW Crimes Act for the failure to disclose the allegations to police. The section was used to successfully prosecute Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson for failing to report allegations against Hunter paedophile priest Jim Fletcher.
Mr Shoebridge told Parliament that Brian Houston is a close friend of Scott Morrison, “who mentioned him in his inaugural speech as one of his guiding lights”; is a friend of Mr Scipione who attended “numerous services” and is a friend of former Premier Mike Baird, who opened the Hillsong Epicentre in Baulkham Hills.
A NSW Police spokesperson said the matter was “still active, still being dealt with and it hasn’t been finalised”.
Mr Morrison, Mr Baird and Mr Scipione, through NSW Police, have been contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for Hillsong referred the Newcastle Herald to a November, 2015 statement on the Hillsong website by its board and elders, responding to the royal commission findings.
“This royal commission did not directly involve Hillsong Church. The abuse committed by the late Frank Houston, the father of our senior pastor Brian Houston, occurred many years before Hillsong Church existed, when he was a credentialed Assemblies of God minister,” the statement said.
“We are confident that the actions of Pastor Brian, from the moment he discovered the news about his father, were done with the best intentions towards the victim. The findings of the royal commission confirmed that his actions resulted in the perpetrator being immediately removed from ministry.
“It should be emphasised that Pastor Brian is not a perpetrator of abuse, has never been accused of abuse, and took immediate action to expose and stop a child abuser.”