FUNDING for religious chaplains in schools has been declared invalid by the High Court for the second time, in a major victory for Toowoomba father-of-six Ron Williams.
The landmark ruling has cast legal doubt on more than 400 commonwealth spending programs, and could force the Abbott government to overhaul the way it funds everything from private schools and universities to hospitals and local roads.
In a unanimous decision, the High Court found the $244 million school chaplains program was invalid because it was not supported by a head of constitutional power.
It is the second time the High Court has knocked over the school chaplaincy scheme.
In 2012, following an earlier challenge by Mr Williams, the High Court ruled spending on the chaplaincy scheme was invalid because it was not supported by specific legislation passed by parliament.
Days later, the Gillard government rushed emergency legislation through parliament to rescue the scheme and support funding for hundreds of other government programs that were also not supported by legislation.
However, today the High Court ruled the 2012 legislation was invalid in so far as it related to the school chaplains scheme because it was not supported by a specific head of constitutional power.
The decision casts doubt on billions in funding for other government programs covered by the legislation, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, local infrastructure schemes, funding for surf clubs and other projects in marginal electorates, drought assistance, counter-terrorism funding and job services.
The school chaplaincy program was first introduced by the Howard government and continued under Labor, which expanded it to cover secular student welfare workers.
In May, the Abbott government announced a further $244m for the scheme over four years to provide chaplains for 2900 schools, but scrapped funding for non-religious counsellors.
Mr Williams has four children enrolled at the Darling Heights State Primary School in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane, which has had a commonwealth-funded chaplain since 2007.
He is a passionate believer in the separation of church and state, previously telling The Australian: “Public schools aren’t a place for religious missionaries, with or without government funding. The fact the federal government was funding them was adding insult to injury.’’
Mr Williams has self-funded both cases with the help of donations from other parents and has said his aim in launching the second round of litigation was to “keep the ******** honest” by ensuring all commonwealth spending was properly scrutinised by parliament and the public.
National School Chaplaincy Association spokesman Peter James this week said the educational benefits of the chaplaincy program were widely recognised by schools, educators and parents.
He said a recent study of school chaplaincy by the Research Centre for Vulnerable Children and Families at the University of Western Australia had shown 96 per cent of respondents — including school principals and teaching staff — supported the work of school chaplains and agreed they were valued as members of a student support services team.
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19-06-2014 09:42 #241Senior Member
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Last edited by sky1; 19-06-2014 at 09:45.
19-06-2014 09:43 #242
Here is the judgement summary :
"Providing at a school the services of a chaplain or welfare worker for the objective described in the FMA regulations is not a provision of "benefits to students" within the meaning of s51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution.
The Court further held that the Commonwealth's entry into, and expenditure of money under, the funding agreement was not supported by the executive power of the Commonwealth.
The making of the payments was therefore held to be unlawful."
19-06-2014 09:44 #243
19-06-2014 13:06 #244
19-06-2014 13:14 #245
19-06-2014 13:17 #246
I don't get it?! how can they say that when it has still time to go through senate
Ah yes, better read the small prints "the schoolkids bonus will stand as long as Labor and Greens refuse to repeal the Minerals Resource Rent Tax in the Senate"
I despise this "newspaper" grrr
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19-06-2014 14:56 #247
RE: the school chaplaincy program, I'm glad the High Court ruled the federal funding unconstitutional, but I don't think that necessarily spells the end of the program, I'm going to hazard a guess (based on my limited knowledge) and say there's a loop hole in there that would still allow funding to exist in the form of state/territory frunding grants.
So rather than the Federal government going 'Hey! We're dedicating this money to this program!' they're now going to go 'Hey! States and territories, have some extra funding to pay for this program!'.
I'm not certain, but I think it may be possible. My understanding is that it was ruled unconstitutional because it was going to be federally funded, but if it's state/territory funded, then there's no problem. So, the Federal government can offer up funding in the form of a grant to states/territories, so that *they* can afford to fund the chaplaincy program. I think...
Still, I hope either way it doesn't happen. Children deserve *qualified* counsellors.
19-06-2014 16:36 #248
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19-06-2014 17:09 #249
yeah essentially that is what will happen.
The issue for the federal government is - states often soon get jack of tied funding, and decide to untie it to fund something else.
it doesnt mean the chaplaincy program will end overnight, but it is doomed within a few years I think.
19-06-2014 17:19 #250
The sad thing is that 250mil, even half of it could have gone to proper social workers and psychologists working as school counsellors. Schools in the bush are begging for more hours with the local counsellor but they are spread so thin among so many public schools they are lucky to get a day a week at each school.
I strongly oppose the Chaplaincy program in public schools, but redirect even some of that rather than it just returning to the govt coffers.
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