Prime minister dismisses reports he lobbied unsuccessfully to have Brian Houston attend state dinner
Katharine Murphy Political editor in Washington DC
Sat 21 Sep 2019 21.39 EDT
Scott Morrison has sidestepped questions about whether he wanted the Hillsong Church pastor Brian Houston to be a guest at Friday night’s glittering black-tie state dinner hosted by Donald Trump, characterising the reports as “gossip”.
Asked whether it was true that he had lobbied to have Houston attend the dinner and been knocked back by the White House, the Australian prime minister told travelling reporters: “I don’t comment on gossip. It’s all gossip.”
Pressed several times whether that characterisation meant the story wasn’t true, Morrison repeated his formulation. “It’s gossip. I think I’ve answered the question.”
The Wall Street Journal revealed Morrison had wanted the Hillsong Church pastor to be a guest at the state dinner at the Rose Garden in the White House, which included special guests Lachlan Murdoch (but not his father, Rupert), the billionaire box magnate Anthony Pratt, miners Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest and Gina Rinehart, and the golfer Greg Norman.
But according to the Journal, the White House declined Morrison’s request.
Houston, the founder of the evangelical Hillsong Church, failed to alert the police about allegations his father, Frank, had sexually assaulted children, and had a conflict of interest when he assumed responsibility for dealing with the accusations, according to the findings of the 2014 royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.