I smell fear


Today Tonight reports…

“Australians are among the most generous donors in the world but for decades charities have been collecting money and spending it how they like – all the while, claiming tax exemptions worth billions of dollars a year.

Now, for the first time, all ‘not-for-profit’ groups are being called to account.

Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has never had to divulge what percentage he takes because the old system allowed churches and charities to regulate themselves.

“If the Salvos can publish audited financial returns, why can’t other organisations such as Hillsong do the same?” asked Senator Nick Xenophon.

Now Hillsong will have to submit full, audited financial accounts that will be published and freely available on the website of the new Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC).

That means we will be able to go online and click on Hillsong Church and see their audited financial accounts, confirmed said Susan Pascoe, the ACNC Commissioner, to Today Tonight.

“If people are abusing the charitable status, then that’s a matter for, firstly, the members and the supporters of that charity and there should be transparency in relation to the way in which funds are used, I agree with that, but, what I don’t agree with is putting this whole new bureaucracy in place,” Social Services Minister Andrews said.

Charities Commissioner Susan Pascoe has spent this year building a register of 58,000 charities. Now she is ready to examine the few that for too long have operated behind a veil of secrecy.

“Any well-functioning organisation should always keep its financial records, that goes without saying,” Commissioner Pascoe said

Consider the outstanding charities who publish their financial accounts, including Surf Life Saving Australia, which raised $23 million dollars in 2011 – and they accounted for every cent in detail.

Likewise, the Make-A-Wish Foundation made nearly $12 million in the same year, The National Heart Foundation raised almost $46 million and the Australian Conservation Foundation just over $19 million.

All good charities, up-front and transparent.

That same year Hillsong church thrashed them all, banking over $50 million, and we do not know exactly how they spend it.

With a turnover of $100 billion and one million jobs the not-for-profit sector is the fastest growing after the mining industry.

A recent Senate Committee estimated the new ACNC will save taxpayers at least one billion dollars a year.

“It’s a known unknown, we just don’t know how much could potentially be wasted,” Senator Xenophon said. “The figures vary widely, it could be in the billions of dollars.”

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon championed the creation of a regulator to oversee groups, like the Church of Scientology – another group that refuses to divulge its finances – to ensure the taxes they are excused from paying translate into help for the needy.

“The process of the Charities Commission is going through is entirely reasonable, it is fair and for the Government wanting to throw out the baby with the bath water, to remove that level of accountability just doesn’t make any sense. This is a backwards step, it’s bad for the members of those organisations, it’s bad for the taxpayers and it’s bad for the community overall,” Senator Xenophon said.

Despite surveys showing 81 per cent of charities support the new regulator. The new Liberal National government wants to abolish the commission and go back to letting massive charities and religions regulate themselves.

“We believe we can do this in a much more efficient way and not just more efficient for the taxpayer but more efficient for the charities themselves,” Minister Andrews said.

Federal Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews says the sector does not need a regulator, claiming the old system of self-regulation worked well and those charities he’s spoken to don’t like the new body.

Head of Pro Bono Australia, Karen Mahlab, surveyed the sector and found 81 per cent of charities want the new Charities Commission to stay, contradicting the minister’s anecdotal feedback.

“I’ll be interested to see his evidence base all I can put forward is the evidence base that we’ve generated from July this year so I will be interested to see and hear his arguments,” said MS Mahlab.

“I’ve consulted widely, I’ve talked about it with people, I’ve thought about it, we’ve talked about it as a political party and indeed this was a policy that we announced a long way before the last election, probably 12 months before the last election,” said Minister Andrews.

“I think it’s clearly a step backwards,” said journalist Adam Shand, who for years investigated not for profit groups, including Hillsong church.

“This would have been terrifying to them after all these years of no scrutiny whatsoever, after telling people exactly what they wanted to tell them, they claimed that members could come in at any time and examine the financial records. That is simply not true,” Shand said.

“It’s really about an effective charities sector where more of the money that people put in actually gets to the recipient, that’s the real question,” he added.

For his part, Minister Andrews says he’ll try to abolish the charities commission with legislation due to hit the senate early next year. But he’ll also keep talking to Commissioner Susan Pascoe.

“If there are good things out of what you’ve done so far, then we’re prepared to look at how we can keep them,” Minister Andrews said.

“Until such time as the Act is amended or appealed I’m legally required to implement the Act, so that’s what I’m doing,” said Commissioner Pascoe.

“I’ll be opposing this in the senate and I’m hoping the new senate post July the 1st, 2014 will do the same,” Senator Xenophon said.




– Questions to Hillsong Church and their statement in reply

Can I please have a complete copy of the Audited Financial Accounts for all of the following for the most recent financial year?

ABN: 21050286210 Legal name: Hillsong Aid And Development Status: Registered
ABN: 37002745879 Legal name: Hillsong Church Ltd Status: Registered
ABN: 13003698726 Legal name: Hillsong Citycare Status: Registered
ABN: 99479865648 Legal name: Hillsong Macarthur Incorporated Status: Registered
ABN: 45454866057 Legal name: Hillsong Media & Performing Arts Status: Registered
ABN: 98060671646 Legal name: The Trustee For Hillsong Foundation Status: Registered

All State, postcodes: Baulkham Hills, NSW 2153

– Why do you not publicly publish fully audited accounts for every Hillsong entity?
– How much money, (in revenue, donations and any other sources), did Hillsong record in Australia, and overseas, in the 2011/2012 financial year?
– How much money, directly and indirectly, in total did Brian Houston (and, separately, Bobbie Houston) receive in monies, goods, expenses and other means in the last financial year?
– What is the position of Hillsong in regard to the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission and the new Federal Government’s plans to abolish it?

– How much money did Hillsong, here and overseas, donate to people in need and charitable causes and bodies in 2011/2012 (please include full and detailed breakdowns)?

Statement from Hillsong Church

“It is clear that Today Tonight has already made its position clear by unfairly portraying Hillsong in their promotions. We do not intend to cooperate except to say that we have consistently and vocally supported a charities commission and this continues to be our position. In addition, our annual audited financial statements are lodged with ASIC and are publicly available.”

Lyall Mercer, Media Coordinator, Hillsong Church”

From http://au.news.yahoo.com/today-tonight/consumer/article/-/20355515/charity-called-account/




8 thoughts on “I smell fear

  1. I think Anon just got smashed by Long Train Running. Quite enjoyable to read. Lets face it… Hillsong is big and lots of people = lots of money. How an organisation uses its money is and has always been held accountable by the ATO because lets face it… the government wants its piece of the pie. If something unfair was happening the ATO would penalise the church as it has done in the past. If Hillsong was the greedy money hungry cult that many on this site would have you believe you would think after 30years that it would have crashed and burned because the great thing about a church is that the congregation comes voluntarily. I’ve been in greedy churches and the back door wasn’t wide enough for all the people leaving. So I say all the best to the church (including Hillsong) in 2014! May its wealth continue to bless others who have a greater need then others and go to places couldn’t or wouldn’t necessarily go.


  2. To ‘incorporate’ means to constitute a corporation or association as a legal entity. To be legal it has to be registered with its State or Territory Government. You cannot have a not-for-profit status without being incorporated as an association, with a constitution, including the aims of the body.

    It is this constitution which is incorporated and registered with the State or Territory Government, who require that you provide accurate minutes of every board meeting, which have to be kept in a secure place and available for inspection at any time on request, and annual reports, including an independent audit which are lodged with the relevant authorities.

    I’m not sure why you are trying to discredit what I have told you.


  3. Well it varies from State to State, as I have said! but there is ample information on the WA site, which is easily the clearest to follow, for you to work it out for yourself. Methinks you have not done the investigative work, and I can’t help that.

    In NT the annual Report has to be lodged with the Commissioner. The report is presented at the AGM, and includes an independent audit.

    The not-for-profit cannot operate without being incorporated with the State or Territory Government. To be incorporated you must have a constitution, including the aims of the association. Sauté and territory governments are very strict about the setting up of associations.

    I have not ‘overstated’ anything. You have underprepared your assumptions.


  4. Saw similar, but did not find the requirement for the constitution to be ratified by government, or for them to present audited reports to anyone but themselves. Oh yes the reports can be investigated, as can anyones banking/accounts by the ATO, but we aren’t required to present them to the ATO as a matter of course, and the above does not require it either

    If anything your copying of the “rules” only showed that you overstated the requirements previously


  5. Hi Anon,
    Any chance of you doing your own research? Oh, I suppose, since you’re asking, you must need help.

    But, look, a simple google of ‘not-for-profit Western Australia’ brought up the following. It took me about 30 seconds. It makes me wonder just how lazy those critics are who can’t be bothered to do their own research. You should be reminded that the not-for-profit sector has always been run by State and Territory Governments, so the legislation varies, but this is typical:

    1. Types of records to be kept
    Record keeping
    5.1 Types of records to be kept
    5.2 Members’ access to the records
    5.3 Privacy and confidentiality of records
    5.4 Record keeping and commerce
    5.5 Record keeping systems
    5.6 Storage management
    5.7 Destroying and archiving records
    5.8 Key points
    There is a wide variety of records that an association should keep as a matter of good policy and sound administration. Some records, however, are required to be kept by law (eg a members’ register, employment records and tax records).

    1.1 Records required by the Act
    The Act requires an association to make sure that the following records are kept:

    an up-to-date register of all members, including their residential or postal addresses;
    an up-to-date version of the rules;
    a list of the names and addresses of people who are office holders under the rules of the association, including committee members, any trustees, and those authorised to use the common seal;
    accounting records that correctly record and explain the financial transactions and position of the association in such a manner that allows true and fair accounts to be prepared; and
    every disclosure of interest made by a committee member (to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting at which the disclosure was made).
    The Commissioner for Consumer Protection can request an association to produce any or all of the records listed above. Under the Act, members have the right to inspect and copy each of the first three records listed above (see also Members access to the records).

    1.2 Minutes
    Minutes of all meetings, especially of the AGM and management committee, should be recorded, approved and filed for easy retrieval (see also Meetings).

    Approved minutes provide an official record of:

    Business discussed;
    Correspondence received;
    Reports tabled;
    Decisions made; and
    Resolutions adopted.
    Recorded decisions should clearly state:

    what decision has been made;
    who will be responsible for its implementation;
    when the decision is to be implemented by;
    if the decision is to be reviewed, and if so, when and by whom; and
    who should be notified of the decision and how.
    In addition to minutes, it is a common practice for associations to keep a register of all significant resolutions passed by the association over time so that they are collected in one place.

    1.3 Notices
    The Act requires that adequate notice of association meetings and special resolutions be given to all members, and that notice periods be specified in the rules of association. Notices of meetings should include the time, date, place and general purpose of the meeting, and be given in accordance to the rules of the association. It’s a good idea to keep copies of notices, showing the date of issue in case of later dispute. Notices are often filed with the related minutes.

    1.4 Financial records
    As already noted, the Act requires associations to keep records of the association’s finances. Taxation and industrial legislation also require financial records to be kept.

    Apart from these legal obligations, effective management committees need clear and accurate up-to-date financial information to keep them well-informed and to ensure that the association and its services remain viable.

    The requirements of the Act are quite specific:

    Associations must keep sufficient accounting (or financial) records so that the financial transactions and financial position of the association are correctly recorded; and
    These records need to be kept in a way that will allow true and fair accounts (or financial statements) to be prepared from time to time, and so that these accounts can be conveniently audited if required.
    The types of accounting records that associations need to keep varies depending on their size and complexity, but we can safely assume that it is not sufficient to simply keep the cheque-book and receipts in a shoebox.
    These requirements are discussed in more detail in the following section (see Accounts and Auditing).

    1.5 Certificate of Incorporation
    This is the certificate that is issued when the association is first incorporated or if an association changes its name. It is important that the certificate is kept in a safe place because it is evidence of the association’s corporate status and can be required, for example, when applying for funding grants or opening a bank account.

    If you can’t locate the certificate, an association can apply to have a duplicate issued by writing to Consumer Protection, either on letterhead paper, or with the common seal affixed to the letter. Please note that a small fee applies for Consumer Protection to provide a duplicate certificate. Click here to access an Application for a Replacement Certificate form.

    1.6 Annual report
    Many medium to large associations compile an Annual Report, which is tabled at the AGM. An annual report is an excellent way of summarising the main achievements and highlights of the past 12 months.

    There is no set format for an annual report, but it can include the following items:

    Chairperson’s report;
    Staff report;
    Activity report;
    Annual statistics;
    Annual financial report;
    Interest stories, highlights and low points; or
    List of staff, management and volunteers
    Where an Annual Report is produced, it is general practice to include the annual financial report. An annual financial report is required under the Act, so this is a convenient way of ensuring that the association meets its obligation to submit its annual accounts to its members at the AGM. Many associations distribute an annual report as a public relations exercise. Some funding agreements require annual reports.

    1.7 Employment records
    In addition to the records required by the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and State and Commonwealth industrial laws (see Employment), associations may wish to set up some of the following employment related record systems that can help organisations run smoothly.

    These could include:

    Records of all job descriptions, selection criteria, related industrial agreements, past advertisements and job position evaluations;
    Records of selection processes and outcomes;
    Formal records of any meeting or discussion related to issues of employee performance and position review;
    Formal documentation of all proceedings related to any employer/employee, employee/employee, or employee/third party grievance;
    Records on staff training and professional development; or
    Filed copies of all correspondence and memoranda relating to individual conditions of employment, changes or requests.
    1.8 Safety records
    Occupational health and safety assessments and data should be kept as a means of recording the association’s management of its legal responsibilities to provide a safe workplace (see also Occupational Health and Safety).

    Complaints, incidents, risk management analysis, training details, safety committee minutes, and copies of specific management committee resolutions regarding health and safety should be kept in a separate file for easy access and reference.

    1.9 Insurance records
    Copies of all insurance policies should be kept in a secure place. Changes to policies should be updated on the files immediately when they are received.

    Insurance policies may require an association to keep specific records in addition to those already kept, for the purposes of validating a policy. Such records may include health declarations, assets register, numbers of volunteers and number of hours undertaking certain activities.

    Associations are required to notify their insurer as soon as possible after the occurrence of certain events such as an accident, theft or fire. It is important that associations keep copies of all notifications and correspondence to prevent the possibility of any dispute regarding an association’s obligations.

    1.10 Service delivery records
    Some associations need to have some means of recording its service delivery and activities in order to:

    acknowledge achievements;
    minimise risk of professional negligence;
    facilitate communications and change overs;
    ensure industry or professionally based requirements are met; and
    assist in evaluation and planning.
    This may take the form of statistic sheets, case files or employee reports.

    Funding arrangements may also require certain records to be kept and reported on. Failure to properly keep the records or report as required (quarterly, annually) may result in a breach of funding agreement and subsequent loss of funding.

    Maybe you could go through the following and it will help you in your own research:



  6. Any chance of providing a link to the law that “obliges” charities to present “audited” accounts and to have their constitutions to ratified by the government.

    Obviously I mean the old law as the formation of the ACNC and associated legislation changed things.


  7. Today Tonight,
    Now, for the first time, all ‘not-for-profit’ groups are being called to account.

    Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston has never had to divulge what percentage he takes because the old system allowed churches and charities to regulate themselves.

    Well, you see, that right there is a crock of garbage.

    ‘For the first time’? No. It’s been in force for several years. As I said, all not-for-profits, by law, must present annual audited accounts.

    ‘Called to account’? No. They have always been accountable to their State or Territory Government. That is why they can call themselves charities or not-for-profits.

    What the lazy so-and-sos at Today Tonight mean is that it will be easier for them to find the right website to look them up and check them out so that they can rummage about in their audits looking for meaty bits.

    ‘The old system allowed churches and charities to regulate themselves’. No. They have always been regulated, hence the need to have their constitution ratified and an annual audit approved. It is not easy to become a registered charity or not-for-profit.

    But Today Tonight’s research division should have known that.

    Why are the TV companies populated by incompetent amateurs?


  8. This is a dreadful beat-up by Today Tonight.

    All not-for-profits are obliged by law to present independently audited accounts annually. It is a condition placed on not-for-profits to present audited accounts. They also have to abide by a constitution which is approved and lodged with their State or Territory Government.

    Why pick on Hillsong, though, and make it seem as if they are avoiding the legal requirements when they have clearly stated on several occasions that they present their audit to ASIC and it is readily available?

    Brian Houston is on record as having said he welcomes additional scrutiny. Churches, which make up only a part of the not-for-profit sector, have been continually warned at various conferences for over 15 years that I know of that they must make sure their finances are in order and that they comply with the regulators.

    And the little dig where they suggest Brian Houston ‘takes a percentage’ of the offerings but it’s been kept secret is nothing short of innuendo, the kind of presumption discernment ministries thrive on in their gossip columns. He has already revealed his salary. Publicly.

    Who holds journalists and current affairs programs to account? Funny how the ABC got really upset when their salaries were accidentally leaked to the press! And they don’t earn nearly as much as commercial station current affairs presenters. More than Brian, some of them! Maybe they can confirm or deny this. Or maybe, as the ABC pleaded, it’s none of our business.


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