By Adam Wesselinoff and Marilyn Rodrigues
Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP is urging support for a petition asking the ACT government to reverse its decision to take over Calvary Public Hospital.
“The ACT government is trying to ram through a bill that would allow this extreme land-and-assets grab to occur as soon as 3 July 2023,” the archbishop wrote in a statement on 16 May.
“It’s no secret that the ACT government want to force Calvary Hospital to provide abortions now, and euthanasia and assisted suicide in the future.
“Taking the land, buildings and hospital equipment and transferring staff employment across to Canberra Health Services allows them to push their anti-life agenda right through the hospital.”
A new action group at the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn headed by the former Vicar General Fr Tony Percy launched the petition to “Save Calvary Hospital” on 12 May.
“We will not be lying down. The government has got a fight on its hands,” the Fr Percy told The Canberra Times.
He pointed to recent governance failures at Canberra Hospital as evidence that the Canberra health directorate shouldn’t acquire Calvary.
“Why would the ACT government want a second public hospital when it can’t run its first? Why would the public have any trust in the ACT government running a second public hospital? It’s madness,” he said.
The archdiocese’s petition describes the takeover as “an abuse of property rights and religious freedom.”
The petitions lists four specific concerns:
The legislation was drafted and tabled without any consultation with Calvary Hospital, management, staff or patients;
The proposed timeframe demonstrates a complete unwillingness on the part of the ACT government to dialogue with its citizens;
That the ACT government does not have the competency to run a second hospital, as it is already struggling to provide adequate services at the Canberra Hospital;
That the government will target other faith, welfare and community groups without consultation.
Sign the petition at www.savecalvary.com.au
Calvary National CEO Martin Bowles said that the ACT Government’s decision comes amid a “difficult conversation” around religious versus secular delivery of health and aged care services.
“I can’t really cast my mind to what is in the mind of the government,” he said.
“But that said, there is a real religious versus secular argument that has been propagated by a few people out there.
“We saw it in the inquiry into abortion-related services in the ACT, where it quickly became a debate about ‘religious organisations shouldn’t do health care,’ or that it should be a secular thing and so on and so forth.
“So I think it does play a role at some level, whether it’s a direct relationship between that and the decision, that’s only something the government will answer.”
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton each weighed in on the Calvary takeover with Mr Abbott calling it “overbearing and arrogant.”
“What on earth is happening to our country when a perfectly well-run hospital can be nationalised at whim without discussion and without any real notice?” he wrote on Twitter.
“Quite apart from being evidence of overbearing and arrogant government this looks like yet another assault on the Church.”
Mr Dutton called it an “attack on religion” and urged the chief minister to reverse the decision.
“I’m just not aware of an action like it elsewhere in the country or, frankly, around the world, where a government has taken a decision based on their opposition to a religion, or to compulsorily acquire a hospital in these circumstances, a facility that’s working well, and in the greater public interest, and good in a local community, and just for ideological reasons,” he told local radio station 2CC.
The Australian Medical Association ACT president Professor Walter Abhayaratna said doctors were “shocked” at the decision.
Dr Paul Burt, former head of the anaesthetics departments at both Canberra Hospital and Calvary Public Hospital, accused the ACT government of “dubious managerial competence” in the running of its health service.
“We would be handing over the management of Calvary Hospital to an organisation that can’t organise its own hospital,” he said.
He echoed the view of doctors’ union Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation ACT branch where executive officer Steve Ross expressed concerns about the management of serious ongoing issues at Canberra Hospital.
Calvary chaplain Fr Alex Osborne reported an air of uncertainty at the hospital and said he was unsure about what would happen to his own role, or whether religious artworks would be retained.