Scott Morrison has finally confessed he invited Hillsong preacher Brian Houston to the White House after months of stonewalling over the diplomatic controversy.
The religious leader had previously claimed that suggestions the Prime Minister tried to get him on the guest list for the event was “fake news”.
But the Prime Minister told 2GB’s Ben Fordham that Pastor Houston’s name was put forward and he didn’t know what the controversy was about.
“I’ve known Brian for a long time and Hillsong Church has a very big network of churches all across the United States and the ministry when it comes to the music, and so many other things have been very big – it’s probably the single largest church organisation that is known in the United States,” he said.
“So, Brian Houston actually turned up to the White House a few months later, at the invitation directly of the White House.
“On that occasion, we put forward a number of names that included Brian, but not everybody whose names we put forward were invited.
“So I’m not quite sure what the accusation is about that.”
Fordham said it was relevant because Pastor Houston was under police investigation over his handling of allegations of sex abuse involving his father, Frank Houston.
“All I know is that they’re a very large and very well attended and well supported organisation here in Australia,” Mr Morrison said.
“So the President obviously didn’t have an issue with it. And that’s what I think, that’s where the matter rests.”
In September, The New Daily revealed that Mr Houston remains under police investigation for failing to report his father’s sexual abuse of children.
NSW Police has confirmed that Pastor Houston remains the subject of a probe over his handling of sex crimes committed by his father.
In July, NSW police confirmed, “the matter continues to be investigated by officers attached to The Hills Police Area Command”.
“No further comment will be made while the investigation is ongoing,” police said.
One victim, Brett Sengstock, has previously told 60 Minutes that Frank Houston climbed into his bed for five years until he was 12 and it felt “like he was murdered”.
Frank Houston confessed to the crimes after his son confronted him, but Brian Houston is accused of not reporting the matter to police.
Frank Houston, the founder of the Hillsong Church, was censured by the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“We are satisfied that, in 1999 and 2000, Pastor Brian Houston and the national executive of the Assemblies of God in Australia did not refer the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Frank Houston to the police,” the commissioners wrote in their report.
“We consider that a conflict of interest first arose when Pastor Brian Houston decided to respond to the allegations by confronting his father while simultaneously maintaining his roles as national president (of the Assemblies of God in Australia) and senior pastor.
“The commissioners express the view that the NSW executive failed to appoint a contact person for the complainant, interview the complainant, have the state or national executive interview the alleged perpetrator, or record any of the steps it took.”
At the time of the original reports, the PM’s office did not deny the claim but noted that an official invitation to the state dinner was at the discretion of the White House.
At a press conference at the White House, Mr Morrison refused to comment on whether he had sought to include him on the invitation list.
“I don’t comment on gossip, honestly,” Mr Morrison said.
“It’s all gossip. I think I’ve answered the question.”
Brian Houston, founder of the multibillion-dollar pentecostal Hillsong Church, told The New Daily that he never discussed the prospect of going to the White House with “the Prime Minister, or anyone else”.
“Hillsong Church received no inquiry from any party as to my details or availability,” he said.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is baseless rumour and totally false news.
“It is extremely disappointing that media outlets spread these unfounded rumours, and attempts to link this untrue story to the royal commission are unconscionable.”
Frank Houston is accused of abusing up to nine boys in Australia and New Zealand.