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Father flags second chaplaincy challenge

•             by: Nicola Berkovic
•             From: The Australian
•             June 27, 2012 12:00AM

TOOWOOMBA father of six Ron Williams warned he was prepared to launch fresh legal action to end the government's funding for religious chaplains in schools as the Gillard government last night rushed emergency legislation into parliament to rescue the scheme.

The emergency legislation follows a landmark High Court ruling last week that declared the school chaplaincy scheme invalid and cast legal doubt on billions of dollars worth of funding for hundreds of government programs.

The government was left scrambling to pass legislation to support the chaplaincy scheme before the end of the week, with $16.4 million due to chaplains providers by June 30 to keep it running in schools around Australia.

Legislation last night passed the House of Representatives to revive the scheme and make it bulletproof from a future High Court challenge that could jeopardise funding for other programs, including clean energy schemes, childcare support payments, Australian Federal Police funding, car industry assistance, live animal export assistance and job services.

The opposition tried to insist on a sunset clause of December 31 for the bill, to enable funding for programs to continue while it considered the legislation in detail. But the government refused.
The bill will be considered by the Senate today, with the Greens last night flagging potential amendments to ensure billions of dollars cannot be doled out by the government without scrutiny by parliament.

University of NSW constitutional law professor George Williams warned the legislation would still leave programs for which the government had no head of constitutional power open to legal challenge.

"It's a very large repair job given the number of schemes involved," Professor Williams said.

"That mechanism is likely to be effective except where it seeks to support a type of funding that has no clear basis in the powers of the commonwealth, and that remains the conundrum for the chaplaincy program . . . It would not be surprising to see Ron Williams have another tilt at the scheme, given the way this has been done."

Mr Williams told The Australian he believed he owed it the hundreds of parents aggrieved by public funding for chaplains in schools to consider a fresh legal challenge if the government passed laws to revive the scheme in its previous form