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.