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Calvary inquiry not recommended by Senate Committee

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Calvary Public Hospital, pictured before its transfer to ACT Government control and the removal of iconic blue crucifix. Photo: Calvary Hospital

The ACT Government should not be made to hold an inquiry into its forced takeover of the Calvary Hospital, a Senate Committee has recommended after hearing from Catholic, Calvary Health Care, and ACT Government leaders.

The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee’s 7 September report said the passage of the ACT’s enabling legislation for the acquisition “represents the expressed will of the Australian Capital Territory’s elected legislature” and that to require the government to conduct an inquiry “would undermine the independence of that legislature.”

The Senate inquiry concerned a private member’s bill by Senator Matt Canavan that would have required the ACT Government to conduct its own inquiry into the legality of the forced takeover.

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But the Senate committee recommended Senator Canavan’s bill not be passed.
Following the inquiry, it was revealed the ACT Government secretly planned its forced acquisition legislation about a year before the shock takeover was announced this May.

The Canberra Times reported on 10 September that ACT cabinet gave permission to start drafting legislation in May 2022, two months into negotiations with Calvary about the hospital’s future.

Documents gained through a freedom of information request seemed to contradict ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith’s assertion to the Senate committee hearing on 4 September, that her government only started drafting legislation in March this year.

Calvary Health Care was informed of the intended takeover by Ms Stephen-Smith just two days before the public announcement on 10 May.

Head of the Save Calvary campaign, Fr Tony Percy, told the Senate committee there is “a lot of anxiety” over the way the takeover was conducted and the precedent it set.

He told The Catholic Weekly that given the timeline of the planned takeover enabling legislation it is now clear the ACT Government did not conduct its negotiations with Calvary over the need for a new hospital in good faith, and that the “unjust” compulsory acquisition set a precedent for faith-based and other private organisations that should be heeded across the country.

“They suspended standing orders so there was no discussion about the bill and they didn’t use their own Lands Acquisition Act, but just ramped it through with a piece of legislation because they had the majority,” Fr Percy said.

“People need to wake up to that and our aim is to make this the first and last unjust compulsory acquisition in the country’s history.

“We’re going to write to every politician in the federal, state and territory governments and say these are the institutions in your electorate and can you give us a written guarantee that what happened with Calvary and the ACT government will not happen in your electorate?”

On 4 September Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese chancellor Patrick McArdle told the Senate committee that self-government in the ACT was not a right and that more scrutiny is required of its decision to acquire the hospital, which is now called North Canberra Hospital.

“[The ACT] does not have the full range of state prerogatives,” Mr McArdle said.

“It will therefore always be subject to additional levels of scrutiny from [Federal] parliament.”

Calvary leaders also addressed the committee, accusing the ACT Government of behaviour bordering on “unconscionable conduct.”

Chief executive of Calvary Health Care ACT, Ross Hawkins, said the hospital leaders felt betrayed by the ACT Government, in that it had been working on the takeover while their staff were focusing on saving lives.

“That’s deeply upsetting. That’s not what you expect from a partner,” Mr Hawkins said.
Calvary’s acting national chief executive Kerryn Vine-Camp said that the organisation had been working with the ACT Government on a new hospital in good faith before negotiations broke down.

“Under the guise of legislation, the territory acquired our business and terminated our contract, their trusted business partner of more than four decades, without any consultation or legal ramifications,” she said.

“The territory has adopted a frustrating transition process not open to scrutiny from Calvary or the public.

“It has demonstrably taken steps to avoid standard democratic processes to enable appropriate levels of consultation, genuine debate and rigorous scrutiny of its own legalisation.”

She said there was no certainty over what compensation Calvary would get from the ACT government or when it would be compensated.

The ACT government took control of the hospital from Calvary Health Care on 3 July.

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