Hopes of a Senate inquiry into the ACT Government’s compulsory acquisition of Calvary Hospital were “scuttled” by ACT independent Senator David Pocock on 15 June after he declined to support a motion by Coalition senators Michaelia Cash and Matt Canavan.
Fr Tony Percy, who leads the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn’s campaign to save Calvary Hospital, said that Mr Pocock was elected to represent the citizens of the ACT, not the ACT Government, and that this was a “remarkable action.”
“Just as remarkable as the prime minster coming out and agreeing that the government should do a compulsory acquisition of the hospital,” he said in a video statement.
“So yes, we should let Senator Pocock know our feelings and thoughts on this matter, and if you haven’t to this point contacted the prime minister on this matter, please do so.”
Senators Cash and Canavan presented a motion in Federal Parliament requesting an inquiry by the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.
They also asked that the Federal Government introduce legislation to block the planned takeover, after a legal challenge by Calvary Health in the ACT Supreme Court was dismissed on 9 June.
The Coalition senators sought crossbench support for the motion, but Senator Pocock has become a staunch advocate for “territory rights” in the wake of the recent territories’ push to legalise euthanasia, and would not back the senators’ motion.
“The territories are already disadvantaged when it comes to our democratic rights and representation compared to the states,” Senator Pocock said.
“I do not believe we should be ceding even more control to the Commonwealth.”
The Coalition senators’ reasons for the motion included the “extraordinarily short and unnecessary” timeframe and “grave concerns with this attack on religious institutions and on the ability of private and religious health care providers to care for the sick.”
“The ACT government held no inquiry into their draconian legislation to takeover private assets,” Senator Canavan said on Facebook.
“The ACT government plans to march into the hospital and take it over with just five weeks’ notice, throwing the livelihoods of 1,800 health workers there into disarray.
“The ACT government’s attack on property rights, religious freedom and employment rights needs a spotlight shone on it lest it be replicated elsewhere.”
Staff reduction backlash
Meanwhile ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has faced a backlash over the government’s projected 15 per cent loss of staff at Calvary Hospital through the compulsory acquisition set for 3 July.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation shared deep concern over the pressure that the takeover will add to an existing crisis, The Canberra Times reported.
“Staffing levels are so thin that even the loss of one nurse or midwife has real implications for a ward or clinical unit and that will increase the pressure on already existing staff shortage levels which are widespread,” said ANMF ACT branch secretary Matthew Daniel on 14 June.
“If we lose a single member of staff it could have real implications for some services.”
About 270 people out of 1800 Calvary staff are expected to not have transferred their employment over to Canberra Health Services by 3 July.
Ms Stephen-Smith said that recruiting and retraining midwives and nurses was a problem around the country, and that 15 per cent of Calvary’s workforce was a small portion of the territory’s total public health workforce.
She also indicated that religious symbols and iconography will be stripped from the hospital after the compulsory acquisition is finalised on 3 July.
Religious fixtures at the embattled hospital include a chapel, and at the entrance a large blue cross and stone statue of Mary and an infant Jesus.
“Iconography and its retention or removal is really a matter for Calvary at this point,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“Probably Calvary will choose to remove a lot of that iconography and if it is a public hospital it’s unlikely that we will have crosses above the door.”
She said a draft transition plan offered to Calvary is yet to be finalised.
Calvary has not indicated whether it will appeal the Supreme Court dismissal of its legal challenge to the ACT government’s takeover legislation but time is running out for such an option.
Fr Percy said that not knowing the reasons for the court judgement was “a real problem” as, without them, there is no right to appeal the decision.
“We have to acknowledge their decision but we’d like to see the reasons for their decision, that’s a perfectly reasonable request I would think,” he told 2GB radio on 13 June.
CEO of Calvary National Martin Bowles said the judgement came after a “harrowing” five weeks but that it will comply with the government’s takeover legislation as a result.
Mr Bowles said that Calvary stands by its actions since May 2022 when it entered negotiations “in good faith and investing considerable time to reach a compromise with the ACT Government over the proposed new hospital.”
“The past five weeks have been harrowing for our Calvary Public Hospital Bruce staff and partners, our organisation as a whole, the wider community and even those working at Canberra Health Services,” Mr Bowles said in a statement on 13 June.
“The ACT Government instead chose to legislate to end a longstanding commercial arrangement with us, even though we have not breached the conditions of our contract.
“However, Calvary will comply with the legislation in relation to transition and we look forward to receiving a detailed and more realistic plan from the ACT Government.
“I want to personally thank our 1800 staff, who have remained dedicated to delivering outstanding care even during these trying times and Calvary will ensure they are appropriately supported throughout the transition period.”
Calvary has said it would consider the court judgement once it is available and that it had previously provided an option to the ACT Government to transfer land, build a new hospital and ensure Calvary continued delivering the public health services.
Calvary will be temporarily re-named North Canberra Hospital while Canberra Health Services takes time to consult on a new name.
But the name of the road it is on is expected to remain as Mary Potter Circuit, in honour of the woman who founded the Little Company of Mary congregation of religious sisters which established the hospital.
The Save Calvary petition has passed 40,000 signatures.