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Calvary Hospital launches legal action to stop forced acqusition

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ACT Supreme Court. Photo: Creative Commons

Update 02/06/2023

Calvary Hospital will take its fight against a forced takeover by the ACT Government to the ACT Supreme Court next Wednesday 7 June.

In a statement, a Calvary Healthcare spokesperson said that the day after the Health Infrastructure Enabling Act 2023 passed the Legislative Assembly on 31 May, it sought both an injunction and an “urgent final hearing” of its challenge to the Act and associated regulation.

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It means Canberra Health Services must put the start of its planned transition on hold until the outcome of the court hearing.

“This means it is business as usual at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce until Wednesday next week, and the Territory cannot exercise any rights to enter hospital land, require information from Calvary or otherwise require Calvary to cooperate with it to effect any transition of the public hospital from Calvary to the Territory up to and including the final hearing date,” the Calvary spokesperson said.

Lawyers for both parties appeared before the ACT Supreme Court on 1 June, with a full-day hearing on the possibility of an injunction set for 7 June.

Director of the ACT branch of the Australian Christian Lobby Rob Norman congratulated Calvary for commencing legal action and said he looked forward to the court’s decision.

“It is critical that the ACT Government’s activities are exposed to the scrutiny of the legal process,” Mr Norman said.

“The ACT Government has ignored due process and acted in a totalitarian manner, clearly motivated by its opposition to the religious ethos of the Calvary Hospital.

“The Court’s examination of this takeover will be very helpful”.

However the ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith remained confident the compulsory acquisition will go ahead, saying her aim was to “deconflict” the transition.

On Tuesday, prior to the legislation passing the ACT Legislative Assembly, Calvary chief executive Martin Bowles said the organisation would have no choice but to take legal action if debate was not adjourned.

“We believe that it is an invalid piece of legislation, and we will challenge that in the courts,” he said.

“Our review of the proposed legislation and associated regulation indicates that just terms are simply not available and outside of this, there is no indication that commercial terms are available to resolve this matter.”


Calvary Hospital takeover laws pass ACT Legislative Assembly

Legislation to enable the compulsory acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital by the ACT Government has passed the territory’s Legislative Assembly after a day of acrimonious debate.

Notwithstanding the promised legal challenge from Calvary Health, the transition of the hospital to the control of Canberra Health Services is slated to begin almost immediately, and to be completed by the first week of July.

The legislation was passed 14-7, with standing orders again being suspended at the request of ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith so that eight pages of “technical” amendments could be passed.

Around 50 Catholic protestors chanting “Jesus heals, Barr steals” demonstrated outside the ACT Legislative Assembly, as Canberra’s Liberals hurled accusations of arrogance and deception at the largely impassive Labor-Greens government and described the process as a “hostile takeover.”

Acting opposition leader Jeremy Hanson said opposition to the compulsory takeover from healthcare professionals and associations—including a group of senior health nurses who called the culture at Canberra Health Service “toxic,” and 32,000 signatories to the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn’s petition—“should not be ignored.”

“The way that the minister has remained hidden behind claims of staff welfare to ram this bill through without proper scrutiny is disingenuous and disrespectful,” he said.

He also accused the government of deceit over the cost of the compulsory acquisition, citing an estimated figure of more than $200 million according to property industry sources.

“This all calls into concern if this is all being done on ‘just terms’. Certainly the processes to date have been anything but just.”

He said several senior lawyers had told him the issue was “certainly actionable” in the Federal or High Court with “a very good” chance of success.

The ACT shadow minister for health and wellbeing, Leanne Castley said it was “blindingly obvious” that the way the government handled the takeover has alienated Calvary’s workforce.

“This will result in labour shortages in an already over-stretched ACT public health hospital system,” she said.

Citing senior nurses’ open letter criticising Canberra Health Services’ “toxic culture,” she said “the arrogant approach of this government has had a chilling effect on staff morale at Calvary, especially people who have moved from ACT health.

“Given the difficulty attracting and retaining skilled medical staff, the minister could and should have acted with caution.”

Chief minister Andrew Barr defended the bill, citing projected population growth and an ageing community for the need to acquire the original crown lease of the current hospital site and transition its operation from Calvary healthcare to Canberra health services.

Palliative care hospice Clare Holland House under threat?

Mr Hanson also unsuccessfully pushed Ms Stephen-Smith to clarify the fate of Calvary’s palliative care hospice, Clare Holland House.

Ms Stephen-Smith refused to answer repeated questions on whether she would rule out a forced acquisition of the facility.

She later said in her closing remarks on the bill that the palliative care hospice is owned by the ACT Government and its operation does not come under the same agreement with Calvary Hospital.

“I understand that staff at Clare Holland Staff are uncertain about the road ahead for them, and I’ve sought to reassure those I’ve spoken with that we are trying to resolve the situation with Calvary as quickly as possible,” she said.

“I’ve heard clearly from the staff of Clare Holland that the most important thing for them is that they stay together as a specialised nation-leading palliative care service.

“I’ve also heard that they want to remain a public health service under public service employee pay, conditions and entitlements.

“They want opportunities for career progression and to take palliative care into the future.”

Commonwealth Government will not intervene

Meanwhile Federal Health Minister Mark Butler ruled out the Commonwealth Government intervening in the takeover.

Mr Butler told reporters that the takeover had nothing to do with the hospital having a Catholic provider and that it set no precent for other faith-based organisations.

“This is a decision taken by the ACT Government in the context of their view about how they operate public health services in that territory, and it wouldn’t be a decision that would have been taken any differently were the hospital in question operated by a non-denominational provider,” he said.

Earlier in the day Fr Tony Percy, who is leading the church’s campaign to save Calvary, criticised Prime Minister Anthony Albanese for supporting the takeover as a precedent that will affect not only Canberrans but all ordinary Australians.

“We have a big fight on our hands, we’ve got to write to our state and territory leaders and health ministers and say can you give us a guarantee that your government won’t do what been done here,” he told 2GB’s Ray Hadley.

On 30 May Calvary CEO Martin Bowles indicated he would proceed with legal action against the ACT Government if debate on the bill was not adjourned.

Updated 5:21 pm 31/05/2023

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