Abbott’s $37m gift to chaplaincy providers

This morning I blogged a lot of questions about Scripture Union CEO, Peter James’ claim that chaplaincy was funded up until the end of December – despite having been declared illegal by the High Court of Australia.

At the time, it was my understanding that chaplaincy payments were made quarterly and that the next tranche of funds was due on 30 June. Clearly, with the court decision falling prior to that date, that tranche, if due, should not have been paid.

It’s now become clear that, after the decision was handed down in Ron Williams’ first case and the government realised another High Court challenge was likely, they changed the funding arrangements. Now (at considerably more expense to taxpayers in lost interest), chaplaincy providers are paid yearly, in January.

So, here is the position as I understand it now.

  • Chaplaincy providers were paid, in advance, to provide a full year of chaplaincy services for 2014. That payment was made in January.
  • That money came from the $222 million the Gillard government committed to chaplaincy to cover a 3 year period; that is, $74 million per year – or $37 million per half year.
  • On 19 June, 2014, the High Court ruled that Federal  funding for chaplaincy is illegal – and that all payments made to date have been illegal.
  • Technically, that money should have had to have been repaid to Consolidated Revenue but, not unfairly in my opinion, the Finance Minister waived the debt. Chaplaincy providers would not have to return money paid for services rendered.
  • But, now it becomes obvious that not only was the debt for services rendered waived, but so was the debt for $37 million(half of the $74 million annual cost) paid in advance to fund the program from June-December 2014; money that will be in the banks of the para-church organisations but not yet spent on chaplains’ wages.

Why has this amount been waived?

Fair enough that the chaplaincy providers don’t have to repay money already paid in wages to chaplains. But, the government has made it clear that, effective immediately,  the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program can no longer be funded or administered by the Federal government. It is dead. Kaput.

Why then, has the government effectively gifted $37 million of taxpayers’ money to chaplaincy providers for services that have not yet been rendered for a program which has now been deemed illegal?

If we are as hard up as Treasurer Joe Hockey claims,  how can we afford this $37 million gift to para-church organisations to go off and do their own thing for the next six months?

It’s outrageous and irresponsible.

That $37 million should have to be repaid. The scheme is no longer operative. The money has not yet been expended on wages. The money belongs in Consolidated Revenue, not in the pockets of the para-church organisations.

Chrys Stevenson


32 thoughts on “Abbott’s $37m gift to chaplaincy providers

  1. John

    I wonder what standing would be required to challenge the Finance Ministers decision to waive the recovery of funds not expended by ‘services rendered’.

  2. Ms B

    I tried to pass on a complaint about this. To the PM’s office, not his area. To the attorney generals office, no, I was misguided and ‘my spin’ as she referred to it, had nothing to do with lack of separation of state and religion and them picking and choosing which high court decisions (like refugee issues, marriage equality….) was also not correct…this was paying off some debt that they blame labor for….and then, the minister for educations office said, no, this was not Pyne’s area….not once would anyone take my comment or complaint….and the person involved in govt has already in the past taken complaints, but obviously ignored….so no wonder these ministers pretend they have the support of Australians…they refuse to take complaints. Yes, I see their point….but if the PM can comment about his fervent desire, then take the complaint!

    1. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear: Assorted Rants on Religion, Science, Politics and Philosophy from a bear of very little brain Post author

      They were right in one respect – it has nothing to do with separation of church and state. Australia has no separation of church and state. That was determined by the High Court in the Defence of Government Schools case in 1981. We have an establishment clause in S116 which sets up some restrictions but the clause is weak, it has been ‘read down’ by the High Court and it provides no ‘wall of separation’ despite its similarity to the USA’s First Amendment.

  3. Valerie Brittain

    So much for austerity measures. Only the poor disadvantaged a d the pensioners have to worry. Never have we had such a hypocritical government

  4. Tina

    How ridiculous. Kids today don’t even listen to their teachers they wouldn’t give a toss about religion. Give the money to the hospitals.

    1. Jo

      No, keep the money in the schools but spend it on properly qualified, secular counsellors, as should have been done in the first place.

  5. onemeremember

    Holy shit, even the tax department does actually refund money when overpaid, for whatever reason. Basic ethics dictates these parasites return the money, forthwith. Is it possible for We, the Australian People, to send these organisations a demand for payment????

    1. Annette

      It may be a long shot, but could there be a role for the Human Rights Commission here? Could it be shown by disabled groups for example that they have been discriminated against in the budget in favour of these circumventing gifts to the chaplaincy providers (and may continue to be if another funding model is cooked up)?

      Along the same lines, Andrew Laming MP Qld, proposer to Howard of the chaplaincy scheme, said, outside of Parliament and before the ruling, that Ron Williams had been supported by a loose coalition of “greens, gays and atheists”. Would this qualify as offensive under federal hate speech law?

      Of course, you mentioned Chrys, that Ron is now taking further legal advice.

  6. Veronique

    Out manoeuvered in advance by the creeps. ////that’s what happened. Now there’s time to introduce university courses to ‘qualify’ the would-be chaplains as social workers and so be able to be employed and paid through the public purse.

    These people are past masters of deception and guile.

  7. peter williams

    It is beyond reasonable doubt that we have a government utterly devoid of principles in its dealing with those it sees as its political enemies – ie those who would protest and react against its increasingly outrageous actions in support of its far right social agenda. I fear for the future of our country as the movement towards a theocracy makes ever greater gains under such a government.

    1. pat

      I agree whole heartedly with your first statement, Mr Williams, no doubt at all that our political leaders are all that you and more. However, I have to disagree with fearful conclusion. This and the former government’s ‘affection for the churches is quite shallow reach no deeper than a perceived margin at ‘the next election’ (there’s always a’next election).

      However, the day of the churches is fast fading as the falling national attendance statistics attest. This may or may not be grounds for comfort since such cynical political manoeuvres will far outlast the churches and continue to blight our public life long after religion has become an historical curiosity.

  8. PennyPincher

    I would have thought that *any* Government decision to spend public money – whether the initial gift/payment or a debt waiver – would have to be authorised by law.
    The Finance Minister’s waiver power may have been invalidly exercised if the particular purpose is improper (ie, maintenance of funding to chaplains where that funding was beyond the Government’s power in the first place).
    So the Finance Minister’s decision could be attacked on administrative law grounds, if not constitutional law grounds.

  9. Vance

    The Australian Education Union released a statement on June 19, pointing out that …

    “Before the 2013 election, the Abbott Government promised an extra ‘disability loading’ for students with disability from 2015. It failed to deliver on its promise in the Budget, but found an extra $245 million for chaplains.”

    Click to access 1906.pdf

    And of course, chaplains still need the money far more those disabled kids do.

  10. Rhonda

    This gov had no qualms seeking the return of the promised wage rise for child care workers. How much lower can our expectations go?

  11. Angela

    This government is an absolute disgrace. Foreseeing a negative ruling, they have simply sidestepped & continued doing what they wish. Seems these good Christian politicians are more than able to deceive themselves about their noble intentions. Bah.

    1. onemeremember

      I agree. If the initiation of this programme and payment of it through public monies via government (politicians) was illegal, if the continuation of the programme and continued monetary support (and indeed increased funding), of this programme was illegal, then it stands to reason that any waiver by government / politicians for the repayment of said funding must also be illegal. Fail Mr. Hockey – BIG TIME!!

  12. Jayel

    If the AEA’s have the money but are no longer under the control of the federal government, to me it raises all sorts of questions as to how they use those funds. E.g. The federal guidelines stipulated that no more than 20% was to be taken from the funds in administrative costs. Can they now take more if they wish to and, if so, will they? Would we ever know? Is this a free-for-all now? Do state guidelines kick in in the absence of federal administration of the program even though the money has come from the federal purse?

    Although I have become increasingly cynical towards governments at all levels the longer I’m on this planet, it is still so disappointing to see them behave even more poorly than I could have ever imagined.

  13. pat

    I congratulate all involved with this endeavour and am heartened at the positive outcome of the high court hearing. However outraged I am by their behaviour, I am in no way surprised to discover that the government had anticipated the outcome and moved to pre-empt any serious interruption to their programme. They unscrupulous, political beasties after all. I wonder as to the expectations of what would follow such an outcome. Certainly, they were never going to just roll over and give in. They are going to fight and fight dirty.

    Nevertheless, I am interested in the next step in this long struggle. We must persist, and persist and persist, to make any kind of headway in this matter and never allow ourselves to be side-swiped by our own naivety. So – what next?

    1. onemeremember

      Dare I suggest it? Another petition, but this time demanding the refund of the monies which were “forgiven” and for them to be put into disability???

  14. Cameron Lock

    I wonder how SU QLD funded their legal representation in the High Court. I hope it wasn’t by using these millions of taxpayer dollars that was intended for Chaplains wages.

  15. Dana McGuire

    Am I supposed to be surprised at this? We all knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. Followed Gillards suit as predicted. Always a loophole for corruption to continue. One leaky bucket!

  16. Meg Wallace

    Good work, Chrys. But it occurs to me that as the $37M was paid unlawfully, it should not legally be the Government’s right to ‘forgive’ the debt, and Parliament should demand it recover the money. That money is unlawfully in the hands of SUQ: it has not legally been spent, so it is not a detriment to SUQ to pay it back. I’m not up with the law on this matter, but if SUQ’s right to it were challenged, Court may be able to order it returned. At least the weak-kneed politicians should demand this. The Govt has reinforced its contempt of the Court.

    1. John

      I am eager to see any legal advice. Though parliament will probably just remove the possibility of politicians being held in contempt next. Considering they apparently removed the penalty for for illegally disbursing funds from Consolidated Revenue.

  17. Ben Cook

    I am not suggesting what you have posted is incorrect. I would believe anything of our current government. But I would find this post more compelling if you included links or references to where you got your information.

  18. Vance

    This morning I heard Bill Shorten say the most sensible thing I’ve ever heard him say about the school chaplaincy issue :

    “This government is making the wrong choices and priorities. You’re better off funding schools properly, making sure our kids get the right start in life and our teachers are backed up, rather than having some debate about school chaplains.”

    1. Meg Wallace

      But Vance, they are still supporting ‘chaplains’! What do chaplains do? Nobody knows. The SUQ could not give a satisfactory answer to the High Court. It has no clear guidelines, objectives or outcomes for its chaplains. What is ‘pastoral care’? ‘spiritual guidance’? They ae not supposed to provide counselling services. They are not supposed to proselytise. They say they don’t do these things, but yet the evidence is they often do. Even if ‘chaplains’ are ‘secular’, they are not properly qualified, and indeed can cause harm through their lack of knowledge. If a school ‘community’ wants a religious person, they will get them, and the kids are influenced. Better to spend the money on professionals, who know what they are doing and can really help kids. Its just mealy-mouthed posing by Labor (after all, it was Kevin Rudd who first introduced the idea of chaplains through the State government in Qld.
      By the way, ‘pastoral’ in the Oxford dictionary means ‘of shepherds, relating to flocks and herds’, ‘of a pastor’, or ‘concerning spiritual guidance of a body of Christians’.

      Public schools are desperately short of proper counsellors. Surely we should be putting the half a billion dollars being spent on ”chaplains” into providing our kids with better care.

    2. onemeremember

      Goodness me – and Shorten and his crew made the “right” choices? Typical hypocrisy it sounds like, to me….

    3. Vance

      Just a clarification. I don’t personally agree with the ALP’s latest position. Secularism shouldn’t be ‘optional’ in public schools, and only properly qualified people should be working in them.


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