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Legislation to protect chaplaincy

THE Federal Government will attempt to rush legislation through Parliament this week to ensure payments under the National School Chaplaincy program can continue.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and Education Minister Peter Garrett announced late on Monday the government would introduce legislation on Tuesday to amend the Financial Management and Accountability Act in response to last week's High Court decision.

A majority of the High Court last week ruled payments from the Commonwealth to Scripture Union Queensland to provide chaplaincy services were invalid.

The High Court ruled Commonwealth spending, even if supported by appropriations acts, must have a legislative base.

So the new legislation, on advice from Acting Solicitor General Robert Orr QC, will go further and provide legislative authorisation to existing programs already approved by the parliament.

Ms Roxon said hundreds of programs across a range of portfolios would be included in the legislation.

The bill will also include a regulation-making power for the current and future governments to add programs where required in the future.

"We intend to take a conservative approach. We believe that a number of these programs do not need legislation, but we are going to be cautious," Ms Roxon said.

Ms Roxon said the list of programs, which accounts for about 5-10% of government expenditure, would be released late on Monday night or early on Tuesday.

She stressed the list would comprise existing programs and would not contain any "surprises".

Some of the programs are expected to include programs linked to the government's climate change program.

The government said it was hopeful of gaining Opposition and Greens support for the legislation in the "national interest".

Mr Garrett said swift passage of the legislation would ensure the $16.44 million owed to 160 providers of chaplaincy and student welfare services to more than 1600 schools would be paid before the end of the financial year. Payments would be made within 24 hours of the bill being passed.

The chaplaincy program provides support in more than 3500 schools across Australia.

Topics:  chaplains, legislation, nicola roxon


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