By ALEC SMART
Explosive accusations shared across social media have linked the controversial Hillsong Church with the infamous death ship Ruby Princess.
On March 19, the cruise ship Ruby Princess hurriedly disembarked 2647 passengers into the heart of Sydney at Circular Quay’s Overseas Passengers Terminal – all but 12 of whom were allowed to disperse into the general population without tests or quarantine. The ship, owned by Princess Cruises (part of the Carnival Corporation) has contributed to over 562 cases of Covid-19, eight of whom have since died, plus three crew members hospitalised ashore.
City Hub revealed the little-known fact that three other cruise ships also arrived around the same time – Voyager of the Seas (March 18), Celebrity Solstice (March 18) and Ovation of the Seas (March 20) – discharging Covid-19 infected passengers that were similarly fast-tracked ashore and went on to contaminate others.
Responsibility in question
In an article published on Medium, the social media platform established by former Twitter founder and CEO Evan Williams, contributor Elle Black alleged a senior Australian politician was “responsible” for fast-tracking the Ruby Princess passengers, causing a massive surge in Covid-19 infected people in Australia.
Black wrote: “Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a source names the man responsible as Assistant Defence Minister Alex Hawke — the Liberal member for Mitchell. Allegedly the in-laws of Hawke were on board the ship, along with other passengers from the Hillsong church that his family are a part of.”
Until now the NSW Dept of Health was held responsible Ruby Princess disembarkation debacle. Because of this fiasco, many are wondering when NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard will fall on his sword and resign in disgrace.
However, Medium’s revelation, which implies Hawke used his influence to ensure his in-laws and other members of their Hillsong congregation be quickly discharged from the Ruby Princess, if true, gives Hazzard a reprieve.
Hawke is a friend to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and originally part of a far-right faction in former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s administration, where he held the positions, in succession, Assistant Minister to the Treasurer; Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; and Assistant Minister for Home Affairs.
Hawke is also credited for being part of the cabal that unseated Turnbull in a leadership coup in August 2018 that ushered the Treasurer Scott Morrison into power.
When Morrison took over the party leadership, Hawke was appointed Special Minister of State. This was followed by Minister for International Development and the Pacific, then, in May 2019, Assistant Defence Minister. Hawke’s electorate, Mitchell, covers an area in Sydney’s northwest that includes part of what is known as the Hills District due its hilly topography including, at its southernmost point, the suburb of Baulkham Hills.
Hillsong: Pentecostals and paedophilia
After the 2013 general election, the division of Mitchell became the safest Liberal-National Party coalition electorate in metropolitan Australia. The Labor Party needing a 22-point swing if they were to win it. This conservatism is attributable to its sizeable evangelical Christian population, and many are members of Hillsong, a Pentecostal megachurch, based in Norwest Business Park in Baulkham Hills.
Pentecostalism emphasises direct personal experience of God through baptism with a holy spirit and followers believe that the Christian Bible is the word of God and without error in its teachings. Pentecostalists typically believe in supernatural events like speaking in tongues, miracles and divine intervention and critics often disparagingly describe them as ‘happy clappers’ due to their group singalongs, unbridled enthusiasm and naivete.
If Black’s allegations are true, it wasn’t divine intervention by the power of prayer that spirited the Ruby Princess passengers ashore but the power of the Minister or someone higher up the anointed chain of command, like his fellow Hillsong worshipping buddy Scott Morrison, who has been a member of the megachurch for around 15 years.
Hillsong Church, through its receipt of government grants and tax-free revenue – in 2018 alone it was reported to have accrued $80 million – is a very wealthy institution.
The megachurch, also enjoys a very cosy relationship with Australia’s ruling Liberal Party, and, specifically, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, through its founder, pastor Brian Houston. The Houston family’s tentacles extend into multiple ventures, religious institutions and right through the corridors of Australian and American power institutions.
In 2010, the Sunday Telegraph reported that the Houston family enjoys a lavish lifestyle, almost entirely tax-free, including luxury vehicles and expense accounts.
Hillsong and the Liberal Party
Hillsong has historically close links to the Liberal Party. In 1998, Houston met with then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and most of his cabinet in Canberra to conduct prayers. In 2002 Howard further the reciprocity by opening the Hillsong’s new convention centre in Baulkham Hills. Following that, the Liberal Party Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, addressed its 2004 and 2005 conferences.
Morrison, in his first speech to Parliament in 2008, credited Houston as being a key spiritual mentor.
In Sept 2019 Morrison dismissed as ‘gossip’ the report in the Wall Street Journal that he sought a visa for his mentor to accompany him on his visit to the USA for a state banquet with President Trump.
Houston himself tweeted via Twitter: “The story that is circulating in the media that Mr Morrison wanted to invite me to the Whitehouse is completely false. The PM never contacted me about this and I know nothing about it. As far as I’m concerned this is a baseless rumour and totally false news.”
However, on 3 March 2020, in an interview on 2GB Radio with host Ben Fordham, Morrison confirmed that he had asked the Trump administration to invite the Hillsong pastor to the state dinner.
Yet in Sept 2019 Houston also said: “Attempts to link this untrue story to the Royal Commission are unconscionable.”
The Royal Commission Houston referred to is the 2013-announced Royal Commission into the International Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which delivered its final report on 15 December 2017. Houston was investigated and censured by the Commission for covering up the paedophile past of his father, preacher Frank Houston, who molested at least nine boys, although he only publicly admitted one prior to his death in 2004.
“Despite Pastor Brian Houston’s evidence that he had no doubt that his father’s conduct was criminal, he made no attempt to report his father to the police at the time the confession was made to him,” the Royal Commission reported.
One of Frank Houston’s victims, Brett Sengstock, testified before the Royal Commission that Brian Houston later rang him, after offering a $10,000 bribe, and said: “You know, it’s your fault all this happened. You tempted my father”.
NSW Police recently confirmed that Pastor Brian Houston is “still being investigated” over his suppression of an unspecified number of sex crimes against boys committed by his late father Frank Houston.
Despite Hillsong being founded by the son of a latent homosexual, the megachurch holds very dim views of homosexuality. In 2014, Houston clarified his stance on homosexuality after facing down condemnation from fellow conservative Christians for suggesting he understood and supported it. In a statement released on Hillsong’s website, he declared: “Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage.”
Assistant Defence Minister Alex Hawke is also on record as hostile to homosexuals. Hawke supports the Morrison government’s proposed Religious Freedom Bill to allow religious schools to expel students who are gay, bisexual or transgender.
One question for Hawke
So the question remains, did Hawke influence NSW Health to fast-track the disembarking of Ruby Princess passengers on the fateful day they brought a deadly virus into Sydney, either through his political contacts or the Prime Minister?
As Black also pointed out in her Medium article: “Allowing a boat with Hillsong members to dock wouldn’t be the first time that Morrison has granted favour to his church during the COVID pandemic. On Friday, March 13, the Prime Minister announced a ban on gatherings of 500 people, however the ban would not actually start until Monday. No reason was explicitly given for the delay between the announcement and the commencement of the ban, but Hillsong’s Colour Conference in Sydney’s North East was attended by over 3000 people on Saturday, March14th.”
The public need to know whom the buck stops with before we hold NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard accountable for the monumental blunder of the four cruise ships that brought hundreds of Covid-19 infected prisoners to Sydney over the course of three days.
Perhaps the NSW Berejiklian Govt’s proposed inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle will deliver the answers, but whether they can link Hawke to it probably depends on how independent they are to Hillsong. After all, if Houston can escape prosecution for not reporting his child-molesting father and become a mentor to our Prime Minister, anything is possible.