Update: See update here.
There are some actions so unethical that we who don’t move within political or religious circles can hardly conceive of them. Naively, one imagines that even among politicians and fundamentalist Christians there must be some scruples. But, if information that has just come to hand is accurate, it appears there is no level to which they will not stoop.
Now, it’s the weekend and it’s hard to check the validity of everything that comes next, so a lot of this has to be prefaced by ‘if’.
It’s come to my attention today that in a media conference after the High Court ruled that Federal funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program was ruled illegal – for the second time – by the High Court – Peter James, CEO of Scripture Union Queensland, confirmed in answer to a journalists’ questions that funding for chaplaincy had been paid up to the end of December.
“The funding for the current year has been paid and is available for use up until December.” – Peter James around 2:15.
When Williams won his first High Court challenge against chaplaincy, the decision was handed down close to the end of the financial year, sending the Gillard government into a mad scramble to pass legislation in order to pay the sum of $16.4 million outstanding to chaplaincy providers for what we understand (but may be wrong) was a quarterly payment. This suggests that advance payments due to chaplaincy providers fall due on or after 30 June.
Assuming arrangements haven’t changed, that payment is due again on or after 30 June this year. This is almost certainly why the High Court made such a quick decision and handed down the ruling before that date – to avoid the illegal disbursement of any more taxpayers’ money.
If Mr James is correct, and his organisation has been paid what appears to be 6 months in advance for chaplaincy services before the due date, it raises the very serious question as to whether the government has deliberately set out to circumvent a High Court ruling. I am no constitutional lawyer, but it seems to me that may be illegal.
My suspicions that the government may have pulled a ‘swifty’ are raised by Attorney-General George Brandis’ eagerness to announce that the Finance Minister has arranged to ‘waive’ the debt of $150m in illegal funds paid to SUQ. If I am right (and, this has yet to be confirmed) this would include money paid after the Williams (2) hearing, in anticipation of a negative High Court ruling, before its due date, in advance, to cover chaplaincy services for the next six (?) months.
So is the Finance Minister waiving the debt for the disbursement of millions of taxpayers’ money which SUQ hasn’t even had a chance to use yet?
Has SUQ accepted millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money paid early to avoid a High Court ruling? Will SUQ spend millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, illegally disbursed from Consolidated Revenue?
If this is the case, I’d like to know how Mr James and his organisation square what seems to be tantamount to the theft of taxpayers’ money with their so-called ‘Christian values’.
I will try to confirm what has happened over the next few days, and my bet is that if the government has pulled another ‘swifty’ on the High Court ruling, Ron Williams will be seeking legal advice. I suspect also that the justices of the High Court will be none too pleased at the government thumbing their nose at them, the Australian Constitution, and, by extension, Australian taxpayers, a second time.
Update: See update here.
If I recall correctly Ron Williams waited a long time to receive costs awarded after the first case, if he has received them. I wonder how long he will have to wait for the costs of the second case. You are quite correct. If payment has been made six months in advance then waiving payment and accepting payment illustrates just how bereft of ethics this government and the chaplain providers are.
It states on his website the following, “Furthermore, I am yet to be reimbursed any proportion of costs awarded within the High Court’s previous decision of 20 June 2012.”
Ron Williams has funded two High Court challenges now. Considering the states are happy about these cases contributing to State rights. I’m surprised a group representing the States is not funnelling money to the campaign.
Just when you think they can’t go any lower, they prove us wrong.
Who has the power in our system to enforce judgements by the High Court? Could the government ignore a judgement?
Would the only recourse be another High Court challenge because if the Finance Minister can just waive unlawful debt. What is the point?
I wish we had a federal police force or an independent judicial body that could actually investigate this
Given their stated inte3ntion to flaunt yesterday’s High Court regarding the cap on numbers of protection visas imposed by the minister (Morrison), and the effective striking out of temporary protection visas, this government has demonstrated that it has either no knowledge of, or no respect for, the separation of powers.
@John – the High Court has the authority to enforce its own judgements, but it might well take another challenge in order for that to happen. If that does happen however, given the above, the High Court might find it appropriate to demonstrate its powers to the government by jailing a minister or two, or even the Prime Minister, in jail for contempt. I do hope so.
Funny you should mention this, Babel Fish. Prior to Williams I there was a law that said government ministers could be jailed for illegally disbursing funds from Consolidated Revenue. Prior to the Williams I hearing – which cited both the Education and Finance Ministers, that legislation was quietly amended to exempt them.
Interesting. And incriminating. But, as so often with this government, they’re not as clever as they think they are. That will in no way protect them from a contempt judgement. All governments to some extent lock horns and boundry-test with the High Court. The Justices don’t tend to take too kindly to it. This government more than any I can recall seem determined to pick a fight, but they should beware. The High Court will not be bullied and will do what it feels it has to to defend what it sees as its turf. And what a great trifecta if examples waiting to be made! Pyne, Brandis and Morrison. Oh, please!
The important sentence in the Department’s statement: ‘The Commonwealth has decided to waive its right to recover payments that have already been made under the program funding agreement’. The
the key words: ‘…under the program funding agreements’.
Question 1. What is the expressly stated funding agreement?
Question 2. If an advance payment has been made, does it breach this funding agreement?
Question 3. If an advance payment does breach the funding agreement, is the advance payment recoverable?
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That is why it is so important to force the poor & pensioners to pay extra when they see a GP. WE need chaplaincy ,why ???
“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.”
Actually, since the government did not have the power to hand the money over in the first place, and since the income was a windfall to the chaplaincy providers who could be said to be complicit in getting the money, how can the government reasonably waive the repayment?