The prime minister repeatedly declines to answer in parliament when asked if he sought to have Houston on White House guest list
Scott Morrison has repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether he wanted one of his religious mentors, Hillsong founder Brian Houston, to attend the White House with him as an official guest.
In parliament on Monday, Labor asked a series of questions to the prime minister about whether he or his office sought to have the senior pastor on the guest list for the White House, where Donald Trump hosted a state dinner for Morrison last month.
Labor’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, referred to the Wall Street Journal report that said Morrison had been “determined” to bring Houston to the White House, with several rounds of discussions between Canberra and Washington before the idea was vetoed.
“Why won’t the prime minister give a straight answer to this question: did the prime minister or his office seek to have Brian Houston invited to the White House?,” Marles said.
After initially refusing to comment on the story, deriding it as “gossip”, Morrison told parliament the invitations were handled by the White House, and it was “a matter for the White House”.
“I think the Australian people are more interested in who Jamie Clements was inviting to dinner, and how much cash was in the wine bag,” Morrison said, in reference to revelations about illegal Chinese donations made to the NSW branch of the Labor party.
After the question was repeatedly asked, Morrison criticised the Labor party for “casting aspersions” on Houston.
“If they are suggesting anything serious, or casting any aspersions on the individual which is the subject of the question, then perhaps I suggest they go and attend that church and they explain their concerns directly to their parishioners,” Morrison said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Morrison had requested the senior Hillsong church pastor be invited to the state dinner at the Rose Garden in the White House, but the request was knocked back.
According to the findings of the 2014 royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse, Houston failed to alert police about allegations that his father, Frank, had sexually assaulted children. The commissioner found multiple failings in the response of the church executive – at the time led by Brian.
Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, said Morrison was creating a “big story” by not providing a simple answer to the question about Houston.
“Why is the prime minister not answering?” Wong told the ABC. “He said he does not comment on gossip … It is only gossip if he does not answer.”
Morrison has credited Houston as being a key spiritual mentor, naming him in his first speech to parliament in 2008.
“Growing up in a Christian home, I made a commitment to my faith at an early age and have been greatly assisted by the pastoral work of many dedicated church leaders, in particular the Reverend Ray Green and pastors Brian Houston and Leigh Coleman,” Morrison said.
“My personal faith in Jesus Christ is not a political agenda … For me, faith is personal, but the implications are social — as personal and social responsibility are at the heart of the Christian message.”
The Morrison family are regular churchgoers, and attended the opening session of the Hillsong annual conference shortly after the May federal election, where Morrison called for more love and more prayer to embody “the amazing love of God”.