Australian academic loses bid to block cash handouts

SYDNEY, April 3, 2009 (AFP) - An Australian court Friday threw out an attempt by an academic to prevent the government from giving people hundreds of dollars each for a spending spree.

The cash handouts are part of a 42 billion Australian dollar (28 billion US) economic stimulus package designed to kick-start the flagging economy amid the global financial crisis.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd calls the payment a "tax bonus," but law lecturer Bryan Pape challenged the plan in the High Court this week, saying the cash is a gift and therefore unconstitutional.

The seven judges of the court's full bench ruled in a majority verdict that the legislation covering the payments was valid, clearing the way for the taxman to start putting cheques in the post.

More than seven million taxpayers who declared earnings of less than 100,000 Australian dollars last year will get up to 900 dollars each -- and they are being told by the government it is their patriotic duty to spend it.

"Bryan Pape is trying very hard to be the most unpopular man in Australia," the Sydney Morning Herald noted as the case began on Monday, just days before the payments were due to begin.

Pape is a former local official in the conservative rural-based National Party but said he was not acting politically to kill what the opposition has dubbed the centre-left government's "cash splash."

Instead, he said he was testing arguments he raised in a 2005 academic paper, in which he said the government was misusing its appropriations powers.

An unrepentant Pape took comfort in the fact that although the court gave him a failing grade, the decision was not unanimous.

"It was a unique experience, a great experience for all Australians, in the sense that an individual can challenge the validity of a law," he told reporters outside the court.

Chief Justice Robert French did not say how many judges had dissented, adding that the court would fully explain its decision at a later date.

Apart from Pape, not many Australians are likely to be holding their breath for the legal argument, which finally granted them what the Sydney Morning Herald called "the manna from Kevin."

Source: AFP

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