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In recent times I have been investigating matters originally pertaining to one of my Duty electorates - the State seat of The Hills.
In the course of advocating to a Minister on a community sector issue, I was made aware by a constituent of an injustice being done to the Aboriginal community of Riverstone in north western Sydney.
As I started to look into the matter, things just got worse.
The 'Mission Manager' approach is alive and well in John Howard's Australia and continues a culture of lies, deceit, welfare and dependency that has done so much damage to Aboriginal communities over the years.
The story goes like this - in August 2005 John Howard attended the launch and spoke in detail as he announced there were eight (8) crime prevention grant winners in Western Sydney.
The Prime Minister said 'all applications were carefully considered' by a panel chaired by former police officer Tim Priest. The PM's colleague Justice Minister Ellison decided Hillsong Emerge was a worthy recipient of $414,000 for addressing crime and fear of crime in Riverstone and Blacktown.
The Prime Minister was at pains to explain why Hillsong Emerge's application was so different from the others, and indeed why the amount was so much larger - nearly triple all but one of the other grant recipients!
So I was intrigued when I was sent a copy of the successful application which had the approved budget attached.
The approved budget had most money going towards administration (about $230,000). Some was approved for discos ($12,000), musical instruments and workshops ($12,000), 'social integration' events ($15,000), the Shine program ($12,000). There was $9,000 for 'outings' and a few other choice items included.
The Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association (RACA) maintains it was completely unaware of the successful application's existence. Previously, RACA had input into another application with ideas for programs that directly involved the local community. They also provided a letter of support from the elders.
The local Aboriginal community was only made aware that the original application had been withdrawn by Hillsong, through answers in the Federal Parliament.
Federal Justice Minister Ellison, on 13th February this year said, "The first application that was submitted was subsequently withdrawn by Hillsong Emerge Ltd."
To this day, Hillsong has still not admitted it withdrew the application. The Church hasn't apologised to the community. It hasn't explained its actions.
Instead they've blamed the Aboriginal community, and called it some sort of conspiracy and political witch-hunt by the Aboriginal community in concert with the Murdoch press and a former Trade Unionist in the NSW Upper House. Seriously...
I'd be laughing if much of the stuff that's been presented to me wasn't so disturbing...
Hillsong have written to me twice, each time to remind me of the "Christian mandate" they possess and that they have tens of thousands of supporters. When I met with them, they wanted to talk about elections, political influence and how disappointed they were with me for making the first speech.
My speech led them to make a Citizen's Right of Reply and their website has statements saying they submitted identical applications - yet the first was for an amount of $498,620 and the second was for $414,479. Maybe they got an actuary in to figure that one out for them.
I believe Hillsong has spun itself into a knot trying to escape a problem of its own making. Its reaction has only made things worse.
What is clear is that the Federal Government had not checked the legitimacy of claims made in applications for taxpayer funding, despite the Prime Minister's words. It's on the public record (from Senator Ellison's pen and Department official's mouths) for all devoted Hansard readers.
So it appears the Prime Minister is happy to continue the destructive 'Mission Manager' approach begun in 1788 when Aborigines were moved out of their land and had their day to day lives controlled by Government appointed Church figures. Most Churches have apologised to Aboriginals for what has happened in the past in this regard.
In my view, those in receipt of tax-funded and Government supported services deserve dignity, respect and empowerment - not servitude, indebtedness and slavery.
They have the right to demand equality in the process - and not be made to feel they must show eternal gratitude for the things they need to live life. And they certainly don't warrant being blamed when they never receive proper assistance.
When I first raised the issues of Riverstone Aboriginal Community, and of Micro Enterprise Development - I was seeking to ensure that, where taxpayers' money is concerned, proper processes are applied in identifying the projects needing taxpayer funding.
We need to assure ourselves about the suitability of service providers; the public needs to know legitimacy of all claims made in applications are checked during the submission screening and approval processes.
Despite the Crime Grants guidelines which stated, "where projects that have an indigenous focus or component organisations must provide evidence of the explicit agreement and support for the project from the appropriate local elders," for some reason nobody checked. Sounds a bit smelly to me.
Whatever happened, no-one told the Prime Minister (heard that anywhere before?).
Regardless, it shouldn't be too much to ask for transparency in the spending of taxpayers' money and the activities supported by taxpayer funding - you pay the money, so you want to see what you're getting.
And on the industrial front, programs need to be implemented by qualified persons and organisations. Community workers spend up to 6 years getting the qualifications to do the kind of work we're talking about here.
But level of service isn't just about ensuring workers who have gone and done the training don't get undercut. The people who are receiving the service, as well as the public, should demand the best in the services they get - they want to be assisted by someone who knows what they're on about...
I will continue to investigate this particular matter as well as many others that have come to my attention since I raised it - from letters, emails and phone calls from the public.
Since the Riverstone Aboriginal matter, I have been involved in the questions and investigations of Hillsong Emerge's activities in a number of areas.
It's on the public record, Hansard again (Minister's and Department's answers, again) - that Hillsong spent at least $965,000 administering just $280,000 in loan funds
According to Hansard articles, each loan was made with an interest rate of 13% and Hillsong has indicated it is keen to get into other financial markets like savings and insurance. There were 127 loans to 93 borrowers at an average of $2,856 each. It's no wonder they say they're the envy of banks.
Minister's answers show that in the Sydney offices there were 7 staff who, between them, managed to get out 6 loans in the 12 months to October 2005, at a cost of $315,000.
The figures show that only a trickle of Federal funding for Hillsong Emerge had reached the Aboriginal community. But it seems it isn't all Hillsong's fault - the Department did not set any performance targets. The pilot-less pilot was in its 4th year (Hillsong had only been doing it for 3 years and it does take a while to set these things up).
The Federal Government's IBA (the body existing in the absence of ATSIC to deliver indigenous projects) decided on February 15th this year not to proceed with the arrangements. I believe this is because the matter wasn't standing up to scrutiny.
There was more funding though - the hub funding was a little bit extra, with some $610,000 for increasing financial literacy for urban Aboriginal communities.
Again, Hansard shows this funding didn't see one Aboriginal person move to full self employment. And the figure rose to about $672,000 at last count (although I think it will go up). That money has been spent.
At a Senate estimates committee hearing, IBA revealed that some $140,808 of "enterprise hub" money was spent on Hillsong's "Shine" program. That money is now gone.
IBA said the Shine program had aimed to give young people business skills and opportunities, but conceded it had mainly targeted Year 7 and Year 8 schoolgirls with "Christian values" and "confidence building" programs.
Again, Hillsong has tried to spin itself out of this by pre-empting the IBA Board decision on the hub funding that was due by 28th February.
Hillsong said it would proceed with its work without taxpayer funding.
Hillsong said it wouldn't "re-apply" for funding. But the original taxpayer monies that had gone to Hillsong Emerge from the IBA had been made without any application process.
Hillsong has had a few positions on the enterprise hub funding. Originally they were talking about a national rollout with IBA of micro-enterprise development to indigenous communities. Under pressure, there were statements to the effect that these things took a while to set up. Then they said they never needed funding in the first place and would proceed on their own.
I'm advised there are employees at Hillsong who are employed to write applications for Government funding. To me, this shows the exercise is not just about obtaining grants, but gaining the legitimacy of Government endorsement across the whole Hillsong banner.
I have called for the Federal Government to look into this and associated matters. And if they won't, I will. Watch this space...
If you require assistance accessing information from a NSW Government Department or a Minister, or have feedback and ideas for speeches, or if you believe you know an issue that should be looked at by one of the Parliamentary committees, contact me at Parliament House on (02) 9230 2052 or email [email protected]
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