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Senate Inquiry Into Canberra’s Calvary Hospital Takeover

by | Wed, Sep 6 2023

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A Senate inquiry has begun hearing submissions into a bill designed to compel the ACT government to hold its own inquiry into its forced acquisition of Canberra’s Calvary Hospital. The Territory took control of the facility in July with the intention of building a new $1 billion hospital.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith told the inquiry the decision was “faith agnostic” and not religiously motivated while conceding that some new services at what’s now known as North Canberra Hospital had not been available under the formerly Catholic-run facility such as access to the morning after pill.

Ms. Stephen-Smith claimed the only people discussing issues such as abortion and voluntary assisted dying were those opposed to the acquisition. “The government has never made such claims or links,” she stressed.

The inquiry heard that hospital staff had been given three days to decide if they wanted to take a redundancy as part of the takeover. The Canberra Times reports that in their submissions, Calvary managers expressed a sense of betrayal by people they had imagined to be partners.

Ross Hawkins, the chief executive of Calvary Health Care ACT, told the senators: “I thought we were partners, and I thought we would be treated that way.” He added that while his staff were “focusing on saving lives”, the ACT Government was secretly working on taking the hospital over. “That’s deeply upsetting. That’s not what you expect from a partner,” Mr. Hawkins added.

Other Calvary executives claimed the “clandestine manner” of the takeover “bordered on unconscionable conduct” and accused the ACT government of avoiding democratic processes and acting in a manner to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.

Calvary was working with the territory in good faith, investing time and money to deliver a new hospital for Canberrans on the north side, without knowledge of the territory‘s alternative agenda. The territory abruptly ceased communicating with Calvary for at least five months before we were summoned to a meeting with the health minister.”

Ms. Stephen-Smith denied her government acted without democratic oversight. When asked what her reaction would be “if the government gave you six weeks to get out of your house to build a road,” she responded: “I don’t think that’s an accurate comparison.”

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)’s National Director Wendy Francis noted that there was insufficient seating in the committee room and many supporters had been turned away.

She said, “The large group of Canberrans who turned out to support Calvary Health Care and the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn were primarily motivated by their concern over the ACT government’s blatant lack of democratic process. The committee administrators clearly underestimated the ongoing public outrage over the lack of transparency, consultation and due process.”

“Witnesses at the hearing referred to the dangerous precedent set by what they believe was a serious abuse of government power,” she said.

Mrs. Francis noted, “In a worrying correlation to the current Federal Government proposed legislation to censor opinions they regard as ‘misinformation’, the ACT Minister for Health, labelled concerns that the Calvary Hospital takeover was religiously motivated as ‘misinformation’.”

The ACL called on the Senate committee to consider the ongoing trauma experienced due to the compulsory acquisition of the hospital and the dangerous precedent that has been set.

Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Chancellor Patrick McArdle noted the the ACT was “unique” in the Commonwealth as the seat of government. “It does not have the full range of state prerogatives. It will therefore always be subject to additional levels of scrutiny from federal parliament. Self-government in the ACT is not a right – it is a determination of this parliament. The archdiocese believes that more scrutiny is required of this decision, rather than less.”