The ACT Government has introduced legislation to forcibly acquire Canberra’s Catholic-run Calvary Hospital and transition all its assets and staff to the territory.
In an unprecedented move it seeks to take control and ownership of the facility with a transition team handing it over to Canberra Health Services from July 3.
Acting ACT Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson called the move “shameful” that “made a nonsense of democracy.”
“We do not support what is happening with the egregious hostile acquisition of Calvary. The decision to not follow due process and have a real inquiry to examine this is simply undemocratic,” he said.
The Archbishop of Canberra-Goulburn Christopher Prowse said he was “totally stunned and shocked” by the decision, ending 44 years of Catholic-based healthcare “which came without warning or discussion.”
“We are utterly astounded. There has been no formal contact with the archdiocese, nor has any reason been given,” he told The Catholic Weekly.
“The lack of transparency of the ACT Government raises several questions and concerns. It is a very sad day when governments can simply decide to mount a takeover of any enterprise they like without any justification. This is certainly a worrying precedent,” the Archbishop added.
Catholic Health Australia chair John Watkins told The Catholic Weekly that the unexpected announcement was “disruptive and worrying” with the move compromising the “distinctive institutional values and culture” offered by a Catholic hospital.
“Catholic hospitals have been caring for and healing Australians for 170 years and have long enjoyed a constructive and cooperative relationship with all Australian governments,” he said.
“This abrupt decision by the ACT government is a worrying rejection of a system that has served millions and millions of Australians well. Our immediate concern lies with the 1800 employees at the hospital who have not been consulted about the potential ramifications of this decision. But longer-term, this is a disturbing precedent for any government to set,” Mr. Watkins added.
The move by the Labor-Greens ACT government comes less than a month after its inquiry into abortion and reproductive choice described Calvary as “problematic … due to an overriding religious ethos.”
The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) says the hospital has been a strong advocate for the sanctity of human life by conscientiously objecting to the provision of elective abortions and opposing the introduction of assisted suicide in the ACT.
ACL ACT Director Rob Norman said: “This authoritarian decision is reminiscent of a ‘Soviet style’ takeover of non-Government assets. Clearly, the ACT Government has no tolerance for religious convictions that oppose the will of the State.”
“The real problem here is the draconian laws that force medical providers and hospitals to facilitate the intentional taking of human life against their Biblically held values,” Mr. Norman added.
The ACT government says the hospital will be acquired on “just terms” and all its staff will be retained, but the building will ultimately be demolished and replaced by a new $1 billion hospital on the existing site in the suburb of Bruce.
The government had proposed buying the hospital for $77 million in 2010, but its owner Little Company of Mary Health Care pulled out because it needed approval from the Vatican that it said would take years.
The government said it had negotiated with Calvary Health Care for months but was “unable to reach an outcome that met the health needs of the ACT community.”
Acting Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson pointed out that former Labor Chief Minister and current federal Finance Minister Katy Gallagher understood the consequences of the ACT government’s action.
He said that in 2010 Ms. Gallagher was quoted as saying: “Compulsory acquisition could also be a disaster. That would cause a lot of conflict, it would put the system into disarray.”