THOUSANDS of jobs and about $366 million in industry assistance are at risk if a High Court challenge to the legal basis of federal government spending is successful.
Having recently successfully challenged the federal government's chaplains-in-schools program, Queenslander Ron Williams is at it again. His solicitor, Claude Bilinsky, said a new law allowed the government to ''pork barrel'', or use public money for political advantage, before an election.
The biggest pledge under the targeted legislation is $215 million for GM Holden, which Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said will create ''thousands'' of jobs and prop up the local car industry amid struggling manufacturing conditions.
This money is to form part of a $275 million co-investment plan involving the South Australian and Victorian governments, set to be paid out over four years from 2013-14.
Holden spokeswoman Shayna Welsh said that the company's manufacturing operations in Australia could not continue without the grant.
''Without government co-investment, our parent company could not justify to continue to manufacture here,'' she said.
Mr Williams believes the new legislation is itself unconstitutional and has applied for special leave to challenge it in the High Court. If successful, the government will either have to arrange for the states to continue payments, or pass an individual law for each grant.
Other programs threatened by Mr Williams' challenge include $34 million granted to Ford Australia and a $40 million rescue package for aluminium group Alcoa.
Ford, which this week announced it would cut 440 jobs at its Geelong and Broadmeadows plants, was given money to design and reduce carbon emissions of its next model Falcon and Territory cars over the past year.
Alcoa's grant was tipped to save 600 jobs and keep its troubled Port Henry smelter in Geelong running for two more years.
Mr Bilinsky said many of the grants - particularly those that had already been paid for - could be secure even if the case was unsuccessful. But he blamed the government for hardship caused to those whose funding was in jeopardy.
A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said: ''The government is confident that the act provides the necessary authority to fund these and other important programs.''