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.