A call to action to stop government seizure of Catholic hospital

By Catherine Sheehan

After the shock announcement on 10 May that the ACT Government was planning to forcibly seize control of Calvary Public Hospital in Bruce, which operates under the governance of the Calvary Health Care, the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn has called upon Australians to stand up against the unprecedented takeover.

“Australia is a fair and free country,” Vicar General for the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese, Fr Tony Percy, said, “The question is, for how long?”

“This is an appalling piece of legislation, that every Australian should be interested in, for the fight.”

“No Australian likes to be dispossessed of their own property, without any consultation by a government.”

The Archdiocese has set up an online petition to save the hospital.

“We are extremely concerned at the announcement that the ACT Government intends to forcibly acquire Calvary Hospital,” the online petition states.

“Catholic hospitals have faithfully served the community for 170 years. They treat more than 1.5 million patients yearly, or three patients every minute.

“The actions by the ACT government are an abuse of property rights and religious freedom.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous, a member of the board of Catholic Health Australia, said it was “deeply disturbing” that a government would “seek to acquire a hospital that has served the community for 44 years”.

“As is the case in Tasmania, many people have a deep affection for Calvary Hospital, which has served the community faithfully and provided the highest level of medical care,” Archbishop Porteous said.

“Many would be shocked to think that if Calvary Hospital was acquired by the Government, people would be denied the opportunity to receive medical care from a Catholic hospital.”

The Government’s proposed legislation to take ownership of the hospital was introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly on 11 May, and normal procedures will be suspended in order to allow rapid passage of the bill.

“We are utterly astounded,” Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Christopher Prowse, said after hearing the announcement on 10 May.

“There has been no formal contact with the Archdiocese, nor has any reason been given.

“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 take-over of any enterprise they like without any justification.

“This is certainly a worrying precedent,” Archbishop Prowse said.

Calvary’s national chief executive, Martin Bowles, stated in The Canberra Times on 11 May that the Government’s proposal would have “material implications” for the hospital’s patients, its 1,800 staff, and the wider community.

“This week the ACT Government announced that it would no longer consult with us, its long-term partner in health care for 44 years, and instead would rather move to enact special legislation to compulsorily acquire our land and remove Calvary as the operator of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce,” Mr Bowles stated.

“This type of unexpected unilateral decision making by the government is cause for concern.”

Mr Bowles said the proposed timeline for the takeover was “unrealistic”.

“A transition date of July 3, 2023 is less than eight weeks from the date of initial advice to Calvary, and mere four-and-a-half weeks from the earliest potential date the bill can pass,” he said.

“Put simply, this rushed proposal will create uncertainty and could lead to attrition. This will have a direct impact on Calvary’s ability to care for people safely. I will not stand by and let our people down.”

The Archdiocese’s online petition expresses concern that “the legislation was drafted and tabled without any consultation with Calvary Hospital, management, staff or patients”, that the proposed timeline “demonstrates a complete unwillingness on the part of the ACT Government to dialogue with its citizens”, and that “the ACT government does not have the competency to run a second hospital, as it is already struggling to provide adequate services at the Canberra Hospital”. It also raises the concern that “the government will target other faith, welfare and community groups without consultation”.

Fr Percy said it was possible that similar takeovers by state governments could occur in other states around the country.

“This could well be a test case,” he said. “I invite you, whether you’re a resident of the ACT, or any other state in Australia, or any other territory, to sign our petition, to let the federal government know, to let all the state governments know, and to let the ACT Government know in particular, that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated by its citizens.”

To sign the Save Calvary Hospital petition: https://www.catholicvoice.org.au/59517-2/

Top image: Fr Tony Percy

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