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Monday, November 21, 2005

Hillsong Emerge National Community Crime Prevention Funding

Hillsong is embroiled in controversy. It is alleged by NSW member of the Legislative Council, Ian West, that Hillsong Emerge applied and received nearly half a million dollars in funding from the Federal Government by involving an Aboriginal group whose actual direct involvement amounted to a minuscule amount of the overall funding. West alleges improper conduct by Leigh Coleman, Chief Executive of Hillsong Emerge. The Leigh Coleman known to many people is a man of integrity, intelligence and compassion.

The following response has been issued:

Spokesperson: Maria Ieroianni
Mr West has never made any attempt to contact Hillsong Emerge to get accurate information about this issue. As a result the speech Mr West delivered in State Parliament last night contains gross inaccuracies.

Allegations by the Riverstone Aboriginal Community Association (RACA) that Hillsong Emerge has in someway “used¹ them to secure funding under the Federal Government¹s Crime Prevention Strategy are untrue and without foundation.

Hillsong Emerge has worked in the Blacktown Local Government Area for close to 20 years, and over this time has developed strong partnerships with local community organisations and the wider community.

The partnership of local community agencies lead by Hillsong Emerge invited RACA to be included in an application for funding under the Attorney General's Community Crime Prevention Partnership at the final community consultation meeting in December 2004, an invitation they accepted by providing the partnership with a letter of endorsement.

RACA provided Hillsong Emerge with program suggestions to be included in the final application and these were incorporated into the proposed budget of the application. This original application was then submitted as two applications, one targeting youth and the other being a more generic neighbourhood approach. The content was the same and budget line items identical to those outlined in the original submission. The youth specific application was successful.

In August 2005, the Prime Minister announced that Hillsong Emerge and its partners were successful in their funding application. Up to the announcement, the Attorney General¹s Department had not advised anyone, including Hillsong Emerge, of the successful application. We fail to understand how RACA could accuse us of withholding information from them, when in fact this information was unavailable to us.

In the weeks following, representatives from Hillsong Emerge met with RACA on three occasions to address their concerns over their claim of not being recognised, specifically at the announcement event.

Attempts were made to alleviate their concerns and confirm Hillsong Emerge¹s recognition of RACA as a community partner in this project.

RACA have made a number of demands to Hillsong Emerge, the community partners and the Attorney General's Department in order to remain committed to this partnership.

Many attempts were made to meet those demands, including agreeing to speak to other community partners and the AG's Department to support RACA becoming the lead agency in the Riverstone component of the project. The first step in this undertaking was for RACA to organise to meet the other Riverstone partners, which it failed to do. Allegations that funds were offered to RACA to silence them are nonsense, in fact RACA dictated the letter signed by Mr Coleman demanding that RACA be responsible for the distribution of funds to the Riverstone component of the project. It was signed as an act of good faith to demonstrate Hillsong Emerge's willingness to co-operate with RACA as an equal partner. It was stated at this meeting that this was subject to Attorney General Department¹s
approval and the agreement of each of the other partners. A copy of this letter
was forwarded to the Attorney General's department following this meeting.

Hillsong Emerge and the other community partners have made attempts to accommodate RACA¹s requests in an effort to prevent the project stalling. This comes even before contracts have been exchanged with the Attorney General's Department.

The remaining six partners, including the Attorney General¹s Department, remain committed to consulting further to seek a way forward. Ultimately how this project proceeds will be determined by the Attorney General's Department.

Hillsong Emerge remains hopeful that RACA will continue in partnership.

We know through partnership we will see a lasting impact on the young people of the area as each partner brings unique experience and expertise to this project.

We look forward to getting on with the job of rolling out the various components of this project over the next three years as ultimately we believe the people of the Blacktown and Riverstone communities will be the real winners.

I would ask that if anyone has comment on this situation, please keep it constructive and informative.