Hillsong’s Phil Dooley responds to the Wilkie allegations

Phil Dooley of Hillsong

The chair of Hillsong’s board, Stephen Crouch, and Global Pastor, Phil Dooley, responded to the allegations against Hillsong raised in parliament by Andrew Wilkie, the independent member for Clark, during a Sunday service.

“We might look back on this week as Charles Dickens puts it, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times,” Crouch said as he detailed Hillsong’s response. A video is available here.

Until last week, he said, Hillsong and an ex-employee, the source of Wilkie’s documents, were in court-ordered mediation. Crouch explained that the board “immediately commenced a process of engaging a forensic accounting firm Grant Thornton to investigate the claims made by the employee. We ensured that the scope of the work that they completed was broad enough so they could have unlimited access to all transactions covered by the allegations.”  

Now that the mediation process is nearly over,  Hillsong can and will release the forensic report. “As soon as our media mediation obligations are over, we will provide you with an update, and we will detail the findings of the forensic report from Grant Thornton this week. Perhaps not.”

Crouch added that a second investigation is underway: “As I previously outlined last year, the ACNC [the charity regulator] commenced an investigation into Hillsong within one week of Pastor Brian’s resignation in March, 2022. This investigation is still underway, and we are fully cooperating with the ACNC.”

We want good to come from this

Citing Jeremiah 33, Crouch expressed a determination to repent, repair and rebuild.

“While it’s difficult not to feel like this is just another attack on our church, we are determined to ensure that good will come out of this and improve areas that will only take us forward. Jeremiah 33 expresses this hope for our future: ‘But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation, Working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life, whole life brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that is lost to Judah and Jerusalem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the dirt they’ve done against me.’

Phil Dooley delivered the main message. “I know that there are many questions that are swirling around in our minds based on information or released. I also wanna say that the allegations are very concerning, and as Stephen Crouch has mentioned, a full forensic investigation has already been conducted by [accounting firm] Grant Thornton. There are thousands of documents that contain information that I had no knowledge personally about, but I’ll take full responsibility for how we do things going forward.”

“I ask you our church to have patience with what we are facing here. We are committed to proper process, doing what’s required carefully and in a considered way to ensure we deal with this appropriately.” 

While some material is still before the Federal court, Dooley undertook to respond to the Wilkie allegations against himself. These were mainly around business class airfares – the full text of the Wilkie speech is here.

Dooley expressed frustration that Wilkie had made his speech in parliament without approaching the church. “It’s particularly un-Australian to exercise it in this way, particularly when there was no obstacle to Mr Wilkie contacting the church for an explanation. Clearly, he doesn’t appear to be interested in the answer, and it kind of feels like being king hit from behind. But Jesus loves you, Mr Wilkie.”


Dooley gave a detailed explanation about flights.

“It’s been a year of significant change for me and my family. We were leading our church in South Africa when we received a call asking us to help look after our church globally at the end of 2021 with a focus on Australia and guys; what a wild ride it’s been. Sometimes I’ve called it the haunted house ride. I literally just don’t know what’s around the next corner.

“In order to fulfil the requirements of this role while also endeavouring to maintain a healthy marriage and family. Lucinda and I and our board had some clear guidelines. The first one was I don’t travel alone. It’s just not a healthy way to do things. 

“Secondly, my travel schedule. Thank you for a few people clapping. My wife would be clapping at that one.

“My travel schedule is approved by members of our board. If I travel internationally, I travel business class simply because I’m going somewhere to work and I have limited time. My ministry leave to preach at other churches is approved by our chairman. 

“Last year, Lucinda and I did travel regularly to South Africa because we are endeavouring to manage both the responsibilities of this role and the needs of our family and our church in South Africa. And there were extra travel costs associated with that. We’ve now consolidated our family in Sydney, and so that level of travel between here and South Africa has reduced. Last year I only spoke in one church other than a Hillsong church. That was in Guatemala, and over 60% of that flight was covered by the church in Guatemala. I’ve also paid a portion of that flight myself to cover the costs of my daughter flying with me.

“The rest was covered by our global church budget as I went to do ministry in both our churches in Sao Paolo and Buenos Aires. 

“In fact, that trip involved nine different flights, and not all of them were business class. I spoke and engaged in ministry work every day except one. 

“And anyone who has done any kind of travel knows that this is tough on your body and it’s unsustainable. But I also want to say we are committed to managing our travel requirements effectively with flight times and associated costs and seeing where we can adjust so that we pay less. The harsh reality is, is that post covid world travel costs have been really high. 

“Secondly, I did ask that on some of these trips. My traveling companion would be my daughter. Our family was separated from much of last year and this was an opportunity for us to be together. I do not take that lightly and it is not always the case and not always the case going to be the case going forward. Other times other members of our team have traveled with me and they will continue to. Why do we do this? Because the demands of this role are high and if health is a priority then we have to find ways to ensure we can stay healthy in order to serve our church effectively.”

Dooley did not address the Wilkie claim that he (Dooley) had previously said he travels economy and in what context he might have said this. The role that Dooley has been thrust into as global pastor could be seen as a massive change in circumstances, requiring a lot of travel as Hillsong responded to Brian Houston’s departure.

Back to being church

Dooley detailed a re-shaping of Hillsong’s structures. “I want to take a moment to share with you some of what we are currently doing to manage our finances differently. We are making significant operational changes. Last year we underwent a process of voluntary resignations due to the fact that we were overstaffed. Our staffing was a result of a previous culture and focus. 47% of our staff were administrative or event-focused. This could be considered backend staffing, not front or people-facing. This needed to change. We want the vast majority of our staff to be front face facing, focused on people and the needed and necessary work of face-to-face ministry. We desire to put more resources into caring for people in the communities we serve. 153 staff chose to take our voluntary resignation package. These were good people [who] worked hard for our church, and I want to take a moment to honour them today.

“With this staff reduction, what it has meant is that we are able to save over 9.47 million this year and every year going forwards. This is a huge saving and it means we can focus our finances where they really need to be ministering to and caring for people. Our percentage of backend administrative staff or non-church roles has reduced from 47% now to 37%. And our goal is to get it to 30% and that’s a radical change.”

This can be seen as returning Hillsong to being a church ministry with much less emphasis on massive events and media.

Church buildings

In The Other Cheek’s coverage of the Wilkie allegations, we noted the charge that there was something odd about Hillsong effectively acting as a denomination financing the purchase of two significant buildings, Festival Hall in Melbourne and the Hippodrome in London, was weak. Dooley effectively answered the charge, pointing out his South African experience. “We bought a former nightclub, and I don’t own that building; the church does. I get no personal benefit from it whatsoever, but the people of South Africa do, and they will continue to benefit from it long after I’ve gone.

“And so it is with all of these buildings that we have across Australia, they aren’t owned by any one of us. They’re for the benefit of the church and the community, and they will be here for generations to come. Personally, I love se being, uh, seeing this building that I’m in at Christmas time, covered in Christmas lights with thousands of members of the community, enjoying the spectacle with family and friends and coming along to our Christmas spectacular.”

Charity and community benefit 

Dooley told of his less than grandiose South African journey. “When we left Sydney in 2008 for South Africa, our attention was to do nothing more than to go on an adventure serving God and building church that would serve the people of South Africa and help them to know Jesus. 

“Our kids were three, six and eight. We left all we had, and we simply moved to serve the people of South Africa to the best of our ability. There is no mention anywhere in the … information that has been sent … put in the public domain of how we started church in South Africa. 

“It actually wasn’t in a building; it was a campsite with refugees from other African nations. We arrived in a country in difficult times with xenophobic attacks happening around us. Africans from other nations were being attacked, and the government, to protect them, was rounding them up in big army trucks and placing them in makeshift refugee camps.

“And before we’d even started Sunday services, we went to those campsites and asked if we could somehow be of assistance, and we received a resounding ‘yes’ and then we did our best to care for those people. We gave out Bibles, we did programs for the kids who were displaced and couldn’t go to school. We sang songs with them, we played games, we partnered with Joyce Meyer Ministries, and we gave out blankets and brought gas cookers to help with meals…”

And also highlighted Hillsong Australia’s charitable work. “And here in Australia, we’ve been tireless in our commitment to give back to our communities and those in need around the world. Some of our social programs include scripture, teachers in schools bringing a message of hope to Jesus, that’s schools in New South Wales, and just being there to care for young people. Chaplains serving in hospitals, sports groups, aged care, prisons, and community groups who are fully committed to caring and supporting those who are struggling or facing challenges and difficulties in life.

“We’ve assisted a family from war torn Kiev to resettle and set up home and start a new life here in Australia. We’re helping support our church in Kiev, Ukraine, financially and through various aid programs as they continue to help pe people during this horrific conflict.”

The ACNC investigation will determine whether Hillsong is appropriately set up to run as a charity and whether structural changes need to be made. 

Other parts of the Wilkie allegations around extravagance are expected to be dealt with in the forensic accounting of the  Grant Thornton report.