The day has dawned grey and cloudy in Canberra and we’re just getting ready to head over to the High Court for the first day of the hearing. I’m looking forward to seeing who might make an appearance – not just in court, but among the onlookers. Will Tim Mander and Jim Wallace turn up?
I’m also not sure what will be discussed today, but I suspect one of the first issues to be addressed may be the issue of ‘standing’. This refers to whether Ron Williams has a personal interest in the matters he has brought before the High Court. As I understand it, the Commonwealth and most of the states have not significantly challenged Ron’s standing, but Scripture Union Queensland and the Queensland government have.
Cases involving questions of constitutional validity of statutes require that a plaintiff must demonstrate that their person or property is, or in the immediate future will probably be, affected by the statute under challenge.
The person must have a special interest in the subject of the action and be able to demonstrate that they have a ‘real interest’ in the relief sought.
At issue is whether Williams has standing to challenge the drawing of money from Consolidated Revenue for the financial years: 2007-2008 through 2010-2011.
Williams claims standing on expenditure made prior to his children being enrolled at the school by virtue of the fact that ‘funds expended assisted in entrenching a program which now effects his children at that School …’
The Attorney General for Queensland attacks Williams’ standing to seek relief. He asserts that neither Williams’ freedom of action or that of his children is affected by the National School Chaplaincy Program. This is supposedly on the basis that Ron’s children have never participated in the NSCP and are under no obligation to do so.
Williams argues, however, that the school’s application for funding makes it clear that the chaplain worked on Personal Development Programs for both males and females in the Senior School; worked on the Reading Programme for Years 2 and 3 and worked in various capacities in the Prep/1 area of the School. She was also involved in reading groups and in providing classroom assistance.
The court, says Williams, may infer that the chaplain was involved in aspects of the life of the School that extended far beyond pastoral care. Indeed, she was a presence in the classroom.
Scripture Union also notes that, in order for a matter to be heard by the court, it must be ‘justiciable’ – that is, it must be a matter which can be remedied in some legal sense. In what I like to think of as ‘the horse has bolted’ argument, SUQ claims:
- all funds for chaplaincy at Williams’ children’s school has been paid out for this year
- no contract has been entered into for next year
- there is no claim for monies paid to be refunded
so, therefore there is no legal remedy.
That’s all I have time for this morning. Does Ron have standing or not? Hopefully, we’ll know more after today.
Posts in this High Court Challenge Series (in order):
If you support Ron Williams’ High Court Challenge, please consider making a donation at the High Court Challenge website. Support for Williams has been overwhelming, but legal fees are still outstanding. Ron, his wife and their six children should not have to bear the full brunt of the outstanding amount.