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School chaplaincy program ruled invalid
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School chaplaincy program ruled invalid

The High Court has upheld a challenge to the National School Chaplaincy Program on the basis that it was not being funded in a lawful way.

The challenge is the second brought by Queensland father Ron Williams. In 2012 he claimed that funding the chaplaincy program breached the separation of church and state.

Even though Williams’ argument failed, the High Court ruled 6-1 that the program was invalid because it does not fall within the Commonwealth’s executive power outlined in section 61 of the constitution, casting legal doubt over billions of dollars’ worth of Commonwealth programs.

Yesterday (19 June), the High Court upheld that decision.

However, the chaplaincy program is likely to survive the ruling, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott (pictured) announcing that the government would find a way to fund the scheme.

It has been suggested that the Federal Government uses section 96 of the constitution to channel funding to the program through the states.

The National School Chaplaincy Program offered schools up to $20,000 a year to introduce or extend chaplaincy services. It was recently allocated around $250 million in the Federal Budget to be spent over four years.


Quick fix fail

Days after the first High Court decision, the Gillard Government rushed through the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Act to validate the chaplaincy program and more than 400 other Commonwealth grants and programs.

A legal academic told Lawyers Weekly at the time that the rescue legislation was flawed because Parliament was not necessarily in a position to give legislative approval to the schemes, particularly those without an obvious connection to Commonwealth power, leaving the chaplaincy program open to challenge in the High Court.

Yesterday, the Labor Opposition said it would work with the Government to ensure the chaplaincy program continues.

The National School Chaplaincy Program was introduced by the Howard Government in 2006 and was later extended by the Rudd Government.

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