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FORMER high-ranking Hillsong member Leigh Coleman has been accused of deliberately misleading the public and the media as the battle for Rosebery's future intensifies reports Robert Burton-Bradley in Central of 27th February 2008.

At the centre of the dispute is a Hillsong DA lodged with the Sydney Council for a 2700-seat auditorium and seven-storey office block in Rosebery. The DA is due to be decided later this year by the Central Sydney Planning Committee.

Rosebery Residents Action Group spokesman Graeme Grace accused Mr Coleman, the former CEO of Hillsong's charity provider Hill-song Emerge, of "posing" as a resident who had no official connection to the church.

At a Hillsong DA forum on February 14, attended by residents, Hillsong members and planning committee members, Mr Coleman said he was a local whose family had been "helped over the years by Hillsong". He made no reference to his recent role with Hillsong Emerge.

"It was a very biased view point he represented without disclosing his true involvement with the church," Mr Grace said.

Mr Coleman, who leases a property in Zetland and has previously described himself as a "Hillsong leader", rejected the claim he had misled the public.

"I don't have any involvement with that [Hillsong] any more and am no longer an employee." Mr Coleman said.

"I was a resident before I got involved with the church and I am no longer involved with them anymore. If I had to say [I was one or the other] it would be that I'm a resident."

Mr Coleman said in an email from a Hillsong email account that he had ended his official involvement with Hillsong in 2006. However, a Hillsong Emerge staff member said he had left the organisation just a month ago.

Hillsong spokeswoman Maria leroianni said Mr Coleman: "Worked with Hillsong's community arm for a number of years up until last year, and is also well known by council. Surely this fact should not disqualify him as a local resident from expressing his views in support of our church."

She would not comment on Mr Coleman's failure to disclose his history with the church.

Further Central investigation discovered Mr Coleman had written letters in support of Hillsong's Rosebery DA to both Central and the Southern Courier newspaper under the name of Ronald Coleman.

He did not declare his former employment with Hillsong in the letters, which were emailed from a Mission Australia email account.

"I used Ronald because that's my first name," Mr Coleman said.

"Ronald is the name on the deed to my property. Only my friends call me Leigh. It's a bit of a nickname."

However, when he addressed the Hillsong DA forum he named himself as Leigh Coleman. In Hillsong press releases on its website, and in media interviews Mr Coleman's first name is always identified as Leigh.

The Zetland address which Mr Coleman included with the letters is listed in the White pages to an L. Coleman and his Hillsong email address is for a Leigh Coleman.

Mr Grace also accused Hillsong of flooding the Sydney Council with pro-Hillsong DA submissions. An email obtained by Central was sent by Hillsong general manager George Aghajanian to a Hillsong mailing list the day after the Hillsong DA forum.

It urged recipients to write submissions to the Sydney Council. "Ask them to give favourable consideration to our application," Mr Aghajanian wrote.

The email asked submissions to mention any connection to Rosebery or the City of Sydney to be included and listed politicians who should be lobbied.

A Sydney Council spokesman said since the email was sent the council had received "an additional 592 submissions" to the Hillsong DA.


In 2006 while Leigh Coleman was still its CEO. Hillsong Emerge was accused in State Parliament by Labor MP Ian West of using "the Riverstone Aboriginal community to get taxpayer money for its own purposes".

The accusation concerned a funding grant from the Federal Government for indigenous business development programs, which Hillsong Emerge was stripped of in 2006.

Hillsong strenuously denied the allegations made by Mr West and the Riverstone Aboriginal community.

CENTRAL 27.02.2008 7

Picture: Melanie Russell - 'Resident' Leigh Coleman supports Hillsong church at a public DA meeting at the Wesley previous employment as CEO of Hillsong Charity arm Hillsong Emerge.

Source: Central of 27th February 2008