Opposition supports chaplaincy plan

THE Federal Opposition has agreed to support the Federal Government's urgent plan to protect the National School Chaplaincy program.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon introduced legislation in Parliament on Tuesday night to amend the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

The legislation, which the government is determined to get through the Parliament by Wednesday, comes after the High Court last week ruled Commonwealth payments to the Scripture Union Queensland to provide chaplaincy services were invalid.

The High Court found Commonwealth spending, even if supported by appropriations acts, requires a legislative base.

The bill ensures the chaplaincy program can continue and $16.4 million paid to 160 providers of chaplaincy and student welfare services by Friday.

Not only does the bill ensure the chaplaincy program can continue, but it provides legislative authorisation to existing programs already approved by the Parliament.

More than 100 programs across a range of portfolios are included in the legislation, including a significant number in the health and ageing portfolio.

The bill also includes a regulation-making power for the current and future governments to add programs where the need arises.

Liberal MP Michael Keenan told the Parliament the Opposition would not oppose the bill, despite harbouring concerns it did not address the constitutional issues raised by the High Court.

He said the Opposition would seek to have a sunset clause of December 31 added to the bill to allow time to consider the "matter more carefully" and devise a more comprehensive bill.

Education Minister Peter Garrett told the Parliament the government would not support the addition of a sunset clause.

Mr Keenan said the Opposition's decision should not be taken as support of every program specified in the bill.

He also expressed disappointment the government had not consulted with the Opposition earlier and declined a request to see the legal advice of Acting Solicitor-General Robert Orr QC.

The Opposition got its first look at the draft bill just before entering its joint party room meeting on Tuesday morning.

In the absence of time for the shadow cabinet to consider the bill, shadow attorney-general George Brandis was charged with examining it.

In announcing details of the bill late on Monday Ms Roxon said the government was taking a conservative approach in attaching the existing programs to the legislation.

"We believe that a number of these programs do not need legislation, but we are going to be cautious," she said.


Some of the many programs contained in the government's bill:

  • Alcoa Point Henry assistance
  • Various programs linked to the government's clean energy agenda, including the carbon farming initiative.
  • Live Animal Exports-Assistance to individuals and businesses.
  • Regional Food Producers' Innovation and Productivity Program
  • National Weeds and Productivity Research Program
  • Fisheries Resources Research Fund
  • Payments for the provision of legal aid in expensive Commonwealth criminal cases-Legal Aid Commissions
  • Payments for the provision of community legal services
  • Native title system
  • Border protection and enforcement
  • National Security-Policing (AFP)
  • Digital Television Switchover
  • National Solar School Plan
  • Support for the Child Care System
  • Workers' Compensation Payments
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • Electorate and Ministerial Support Costs and Parliamentary Entitlements Support Costs
  • Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations
  • National Immunisation Program
  • Medicare services

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