Written by Kathy Clubb
There has been massive pushback Australia-wide since the ACT government’s announcement that it will compulsorily acquire Canberra’s Calvary Hospital. Although the hospital sits on government land, it has been run by the Little Company of Mary since 1979. Support for Calvary has been widespread: mainstream Catholic media has issued articles and non-Catholic organisations, such as the Australian Christian Lobby, have recognised the threat posed by the ACT government’s actions and have gotten behind the Church in an effort to ensure that other faith-based institutions don’t suffer the same fate.
Calvary runs fourteen hospitals across the country, leading some to wonder if it’s hospitals in other states are likewise being scheduled for hostile takeovers. It has a reputation for offering excellent health care, whereas those sections of the ACT’s health system run by the government are reportedly in a shambles.
The speed at which the takeover is set to be achieved is almost as startling as the move itself, and is almost unheard of for an operation of this size. In a time-frame of only thirty-three days, the Canberra Health Service will take over running the hospital from the little Company of Mary, meaning that Calvary’s 1800 staff members – many of whom left the public sector after bad experiences – will find themselves working for the ACT government.
The ease with which the territory government bypassed its own regulations and created new legislation to legitimise the takeover is also shocking. Only one day after announcing the forced takeover, the Infrastructure Enabling bill 2023 was rammed through ACT’s parliament, circumventing the usual two month consultation period required for new legislation. This allowed the government to effectively cancel its lease with Calvary, even though 76 years were remaining. The ACT government also saw fit to suspend its own guidelines for compulsory acquisition as laid out in the Lands Acquisition Act of 1994, which state that both parties must negotiate, with the government proceeding with an acquisition only after “just terms” are agreed upon. However, no terms were agreed on as there was no consultation leading up to the government’s decision, and no details of the compensation package have been publicly announced.
The ACT government had previously announced that it would not upgrade the ageing hospital, opting instead to build a new service in 2025. The Calvary administration was under the impression that it would continue to operate the new facility, once that was built. There had also been consultations regarding a takeover in the past, which had broken down for various reasons, making the current decision a complete surprise to both hospital administration and to the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, headed by Archbishop Christopher Prowse.
Writing in The Australian, Archbishop Prowse said:
“Never before has a government – commonwealth, state or territory – sought to acquire the assets, operations, staff and clients of a church agency with the effect of ceasing its ministry. This raises the actions of the ACT government to national significance and creates a dangerous and unpredictable precedent. Some have suggested that my response to this unparalleled action is an unwillingness to give up control. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Religions generally, and the Catholic Church in particular, have worked throughout the centuries for the common good in order to bring about human flourishing. It is the reason the church initiated hospitals over a millennia ago; it is why we seek to continue to work in public health care, so that protection of life and healing can be offered to all in the community from conception to natural death.”
Martin Bowles, the National CEO of Calvary Healthcare, said that the government had “not acted in good faith”, and that a “secret government team” began planning the takeover after the breakdown of previous negotiations. Those had stalled because Calvary refused the government’s offer of a new twenty-five year lease. Mr Bowles said:
“For me, the most worrying issue here is the regulatory risk when businesses enter into contracts with government if they can be removed by special legislation. That’s concerning. Anyone who deals with government should be concerned that it has the ability to remove that contract that was negotiated in good faith – just be wiped away through some sort of special legislation.”
Although the official government line is that the takeover of Calvary is about improving efficiencies, the timing of the hospital’s confiscation indicates that the move is less about productivity and more about abortion ideology. Only a month ago, the ACT’s Legislative Assembly released a report condemning Calvary’s failure to provide abortions, and highlighting “… the international concerns at governments’ outsourcing public health care to Catholic organisations,”
The report went on to decry the “… ethically fraught dependence on the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary for provision of health services” and recommended that Calvary be forced to refer patients for abortion. A large part of the enquiry’s focus seems to have been centred around the experience of an anonymous pregnant woman whom it says was refused a Dilation and Curettage procedure after her miscarriage because “D and C was a procedure used for abortions.”
This was rebutted by Calvary’s Chief Medical Advisor Dr Tracey Tay, who replied that “D and C is the standard emergency treatment for an incomplete miscarriage” and that:
“Although Calvary does not offer an elective termination of pregnancy, Calvary does provide D&C for a range of gynaecological conditions. The details in the report of the ACT Inquiry into Abortion and Reproductive Choice do not reflect Calvary’s commitment to women in need of emergency health care when experiencing a miscarriage.”
Many of the report’s eighteen recommendations were completely outrageous, e.g. that government employees should be given leave for “reproductive healthcare” and that abortion facility exclusion zones should be increased. The Committee demanded that women in the ACT be given access to late-term abortion – although this is already legal, there is an unsurprising dearth of doctors willing to kill babies into the second and third trimesters. The same enquiry however, overlooked the responses of women who said they felt rushed into making a decision and who didn’t realise that abortion would leave an emotional aftermath. By contrast, staff at Calvary’s maternity unit were trained to be understanding and sympathetic to post-abortive women presenting for childbirth.
Not long after the Committee’s recommendations were released, the ACT became Australia’s first jurisdiction to provide abortions for free, even for those without Medicare cards, underscoring the anti-life agenda of the territory’s leftist government. It’s soon-to-be-tabled assisted suicide bill has already met with resistance from Calvary’s administration, who have refused to cooperate with any future euthanasia programme.
A website has been set up to share information about Calvary’s forced acquisition, and it includes a petition which has so far garnered more than 29,000 signatures. (Please sign this, if you haven’t already done so.) The website also contains updates from Fr Tony Percy, the head of the Save Calvary Taskforce.
As Fr. Percy points out, no property in Australia is now safe, whether it be medical, educational or private, since the government is willing to create its own legislation and flout its own guidelines in order to bypass democratic process.