Monthly Archives: July 2012

Gillard government opens flood-gates on pork-barrel spending

In a brilliant, insightful article on Online Opinion today, Meg Wallace explains the depths to which the Gillard government has stooped in its efforts to keep funding the National School Chaplaincy Program. It’s a story of how the Gillard government has thumbed its nose at the Australian Constitution and the High Court of Australia, abandoned the principle of parliamentary democracy, sold out public accountability and even manoeuvered  to  exempt its Ministers from prosecution when it became apparent they had very possibly broken the law. It’s all very, very grubby.

I highly recommend Meg Wallace’s article to you:  Undermining the constitution to save school chaplains and others

Please share the link to this article with your own networks (click the Facebook ‘like’ or Twitter links on the article).  The more people who understand exactly what the government has done in order to pander to the religious right the better.

One really has to ask what back-room deals have been done to make the government sell out the very basis of our parliamentary democracy in order to put poorly qualified, evangelical, religious zealots into our secular state schools.

But this issue extends beyond government support for religious evangelising. It opens the floodgates for government pork-barreling. If the new amendment to the Finance Act stands, governments can commit tax payers’ money to a whole range of vote-buying programs, without legislation and without proper public accountability. They have organized for themselves a huge government pork-barreling slush fund.

It’s important to note (as the Commonwealth Ombudsman has pointed out) that executive schemes (financed without appropriate legislation) are not reviewable under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (ADJR Act)  and the merits of decisions made under this type of scheme are not reviewable by generalist or specialist tribunals. In other words, as it stands, the government can spend money without legislation and avoid accountability to the watchdogs set up to monitor government schemes. It is truly outrageous.

Ron Williams will be taking this matter back to the High Court of Australia, and it seems likely that the High Court justices will take a very dim view of the government trying to circumvent the Constitution and a High Court ruling by rushing through slip-shod, undemocratic legislation. For some opinions from constitutional experts, have a look at the links on the High Court Challenge website.

Once again, Williams will be risking his family’s financial future to fight for our rights in the High Court of Australia. It’s been estimated the cost of this second action will be around $400,000.  Whether or not you support school chaplaincy, you should be appalled at the cynical way our government has dealt with this issue.

Please consider making a contribution towards Williams’ legal costs at the High Court Challenge website: .

I’ve donated $200, another friend has chipped in $1,000, but even smaller amounts will help if enough people donate.

This is a chance to be a part of constitutional history, and $50 or $100 is a very small price to pay to say to the government that ‘we the people’ demand they respect the rulings of the High Court of Australia and the Australian Constitution and the principle of parliamentary democracy.

Chrys Stevenson

What REALLY happens in your child’s Scripture class – and beyond …

Here is a fascinating insight into what is really taught in Scripture (SRE / RI classes) in Australian state schools. Joel Pittman, a former evangelical youth pastor explains how evangelicals have colonised this area, how they frighten your children into giving their lives to Christ and then encourage them to attend youth camps where they can be further indoctrinated.

We have known this is going on for years, but it’s absolutely fascinating to hear Joel talk about it so casually. Joel insists that the way he conducted Scripture classes is typical. This is borne out by an account from a friend of mine. She told me recently that her son – opted out of Scripture but made to sit outside the classroom – heard a friend ask the Scripture teacher if his parents would go to hell because they were divorced. The teacher answered bluntly, “Yes, they would,” and proceeded with a lecture about how ‘these people’ make a covenant under God and then are too lazy to make their marriage work. The child was in tears and my friends son was so horrified he came home and told her what he’d heard.

The video was taken at Skepticamp Sydney.

It’s interesting that someone notes that Scripture classes when WE were young were pretty benign. Joel notes that most of the money comes from the evangelical churches which are ‘cashed up’.

“You’ve got, like, churches groups like Hillsong that are taking $80-$90 million a year and are sending thousands of these people out …” says Joel.

The curriculum, says Joel is decided by the Scripture Board. But, while other moderate churches were involved,  “They didn’t have the money – and whoever has the money, makes the rules,” he says.

Watch it and weep.

Chrys Stevenson

If this is of concern to you, please consider contacting or supporting the Australian Secular Lobby – or, in Victoria, Fairness in Religion in Schools (FIRIS) – .

You may also like to consider donating towards the legal fees for a second High Court Challenge against federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy program. An explanation of why another challenge is necessary, and some opinions from constitutional experts are linked to on the High Court Challenge website at . The chaplaincy challenge is being undertaken, once again, by Ron Williams who is risking his family’s financial future by taking this on. It’s estimated that the cost of this second challenge will approach $400,000.  It’s a staggering sum, but even small contributions are useful if enough people chip in.  Details of how to donate are in the right hand side bar at the High Court Challenge website.

Urgent – Hold the PM’s Feet to the Fire on School Chaplaincy

Your votes urgently needed to put a question to the PM on National School Chaplaincy

Today is Wednesday, 18 July. We have one day to act on this. 

On July 21st, Deakin University, Google+, Fairfax and OurSay are hosting an Australian first: Prime Minister Julia Gillard will answer questions from the public  in a “Google Hangout”, an internationally live web broadcast.

David Nicholls from the Atheist Foundation of Australia has posted a question for the PM on her government’s continued support for the National School Chaplaincy Program.

“Dear Prime Minister. Against the strongly expressed concerns of mental health professionals, teacher unions and secular organisations, why do you allow the outrageous situation to continue where largely unqualified, religious evangelists have access to young children in public schools, in the form of the National School Chaplaincy Program? ”

The three people who ask the most popular questions will join Prime Minister Julia Gillard for a Hangout moderated by Fairfax political reporter Misha Schubert.

Currently, the NSCP question is ranked number four and we urgently need more votes to bring it up into the top three.

Each voter gets 7 votes which you can allocate as you wish. You can vote 7 times for the same question if you want – and I hope you’ll do that!

You also have the opportunity to post a comment about the NSCP and your objections to it.

It is a bit of a palaver if you’re not already registered with Our Say, but please take the time to register and vote. This is an excellent opportunity to show the PM the high level of public outrage over the chaplaincy program.

Here’s the link to David Nicholl’s question:

Remember you can vote 7 times. Just keep clicking ‘VOTE’ until it says you have no votes left.

Chrys Stevenson

It’s on! Williams to return to the High Court on Chaplaincy Issue

Ron Williams at the High Court of Australia

Ron Williams and his solicitor, Claude Bilinsky, announced today that Williams will challenge the legislation recently enacted to ‘work around’ the High Court’s decision in Williams vs the Commonwealth and Others, otherwise known as the ‘chaplaincy challenge’.

I don’t think most people realise the seriousness of the action taken by our parliamentary representatives in their haste to throw yet more tax payers’ money at the likes of Scripture Union and Access Ministries.

This issue has now become much bigger than school chaplaincy. The government has enacted legislation which undermines the very basis of parliamentary democracy and public accountability.

Anne Twomey, professor of constitutional law at the University of Sydney says the parliament has committed an act of hara-kiri in passing the highly controversial Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Bill (No.3) 2012.

The bill, Twomey explains, was rushed through  in just over three hours and:

“gave full authority to the executive to spend money on whatever it wished without the need for further legislation or parliamentary scrutiny.

It was an abject surrender of its powers of financial scrutiny to the Executive, and all in an effort to save a few school chaplains.”

Also lumped in with the ‘work around’ legislation was this curious provision:

“To provide funds to support the provision of entitlements to the current Prime Minister, and to former Prime Ministers once they have left Parliament, the Australian Political Exchange Council and related activities, and political party secretariat training.”

Another description might be to provide political slush funds without the need for parliamentary scrutiny or approval.

According to Twomey:

“This Bill, in a bald-faced manner, rejects the fundamental propositions put by the High Court in the Williams case. The Commonwealth is clearly asking for another clobbering by the Court.” [emphasis added]

Law expert, Andrew Lynch, director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law described the government’s action as ‘dubious’.

Like Twomey, Lynch explains that:

“The Government’s rescue bill was … an attempt to preserve the autonomy of the executive by giving it carte-blanche to spend money without the need for further legislation or parliamentary scrutiny …”

The Williams case, said Lynch, was “the most significant denial of Commonwealth power in the history of the court – It has all the potential of a game changer.”

In an article in The Australian, Lynch explains that the government’s ‘work around’ bill encompasses far more than just chaplaincy. In fact, it relates to around 10 per cent of total government expenditure – without legislation!

Lynch notes that, “grave concerns have been expressed about the bill’s validity and effectiveness.”

Even George Brandis, the shadow attorney-general “seized on the deficiencies of the bill’s ‘umbrella form of statutory validation’ and expressed ‘grave concerns’ about the constitutionality of the rescue bill.” But still, the Opposition voted it in!

Meanwhile, Simon Breheny, research fellow with the rule of law project at the Institute of Public Affairs, puts the bill in its historical context.

“It is a basic tenet of parliamentary democracy that the decision to spend public money is made by the parliament.

The English Civil War and the French Revolution were sparked by this fundamental principle: when the executive wants money, it needs the consent of representatives of the governed.

But an obscure bill passed by the Federal Parliament turns this principle on its head.”

Read that again because THIS is what this is all about – the undermining of the very basis of parliamentary democracy and public accountability in this country. That’s a principle that has sparked bloody revolutions – it’s certainly a principle that’s worth fighting for!

According to Breheny:

“The government’s hasty solution is a piece of legislation that completely usurps Parliament’s power to approve public spending. It is radical, unnecessary, excessive and unprecedented.”

He goes on to explain:

The act as a whole may be constitutionally invalid. The High Court has a history of striking down legislation designed by governments to brazenly circumvent its decisions. This is clearly such a case.

But more importantly, the transfer of power from the Parliament to the executive under this act is immensely anti-democratic. It means we will not have a parliamentary debate on the school chaplains program, or any of the other 414 programs listed.

The new mechanism allows for spending relating to any regulations that fall under those programs. But regulations are not subject to parliamentary debate, so government now has the power to fund almost limitless activities of federal regulators without any parliamentary scrutiny.” [emphasis added]

Mounting a High Court Challenge is not cheap.  The meter has already started clicking over as Williams has sought opinions from his solicitor and his barrister. As we saw during the High Court Challenge against federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program, Williams has assembled a ‘crack’ legal team that is eminently capable of winning a High Court challenge. But that costs serious money – $300,000 of serious money.

Williams was awarded costs for his first successful challenge against the government, but he will still need to raise a substantial sum to take this matter to the High Court – or again, face financial ruin.  I believe it is up to every Australian who can possibly afford it to make a contribution, however small, to help stop the erosion of democracy in this country by our own parliament!  We, the people, need to say, “No! We demand public accountability. We demand that you respect the decisions of the High Court. We demand that you act like responsible politicians, not petulant children!”

I have already donated $200 towards this next High Court Challenge.  I hope that my readers will consider making a donation as well.  It’s your opportunity to be a part of Australian constitutional history. How much is that worth?

Donations to a solicitor’s trust can be made at the High Court Challenge website:

Chrys Stevenson

On 7 July 2012, Ron Williams announced his intention to re-commence High Court proceedings against the Commonwealth of Australia: The Age, Jane Lee, 7 July 2012

Related articles:

SMH 5 July 2012 Simon Breheny:
Democracy sidelined in panic over chaplains

The Australian 3 July 2012 Andrew Lynch:
School chaplains decision opens can of worms for federal funding

Lawyers Weekly 28 June 2012 Leanne Mezrani:
Academic says chaplaincy rescue bill is flawed

The Conversation 27 June 2012 Anne Twomey:
Bringing down the House? Keeping school chaplains means a surrender to the Executive

Leslie Cannold’s blog 6 July 2012 Max Wallace:

Wrap – the High Court Challenge to federally funded chaplains in Australian Schools

Ron Williams and his ‘support team’ during the High Court Challenge, Canberra, August 2011. (Chrys in blue scarf).

Chaplaincy Challenge: The Verdict and Its Aftermath – My interview with Sunshine Coast ABC FM

I was interviewed this morning by Annie Gaffney of Sunshine Coast ABC FM. The topics were the verdict and aftermath of the High Court Challenge against federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy program and the forthcoming Reality Bites Literary Festival to be held at Cooroy Library, Sunshine Coast at the end of this month.

Chrys Stevenson