Faith Leaders Condemn ACT Calvary Hospital Grab

Andrew Barr’s takeover of Canberra’s Calvary Hospital will create a dangerous precedent and pave the way for government intervention in other faith-based community services such as schools, according to religious leaders and Catholic educators. The ACT chief minister’s decision to introduce legislation allowing the takeover of Calvary Hospital in Bruce, which is currently being run by a Catholic provider, has sparked outrage among faith communities and MPs, including Opposition leader Peter Dutton. Member for the ACT seat of Bean, David Smith, became the first government MP to criticise the move, which he said had been made without sufficient consultation. “If you’re going to have significant workplace change, you should go through a proper consultative process, with the workforce and patients,” he said. “That’s the aspect of this process that is a bit disappointing for me, I’d urge the ACT government to do as much consultation as possible.”

Mr. Smith said while he was “sympathetic” to the government wanting to run the site and invest $1bn in an upgrade, it had not gone about it the right way and had angered members of the community. National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins raised alarm over the move, which she said undermined the “pluralism” that should exist in community services and brought into question whether the government would intervene in other sectors. “I am concerned at the ACT government’s apparent unwillingness to support long-established and highly regarded pluralism in community service delivery and any implications this might have in the future for faith-based schools,” she said. “Where people have access to a range of public services, faith-based agencies should be free to live and let live.”

Former ACT chief minister Jon Stanhope would not be drawn on the wisdom of the ACT government’s decision to take over the hospital but raised concern with the “divisiveness” the move had caused within the community. It follows Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher accusing the ACT government of an “extreme land-and-assets grab” in an attempt to implement an “anti-life agenda”. Calvary is one of just two acute-care hospitals in Canberra and the government maintains a “single network health system” would be best for the territory. ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT government had sought to work with Calvary “over many months” to reach an agreed position on the development of a new northside hospital on the Calvary Public Hospital site in Bruce.

“The government also advised Calvary in April 2022 it would consider legislating to acquire the land, if necessary,” she said. “Ultimately, no agreement could be reached, and the government needed to make a decision in the long-term best interests of Canberrans.” While conceding the timeline was short, she said the government had acted on advice the best approach was “to provide a reasonable period of adjustment without prolonging the process”. Freedom of Faith chair and Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead said he was also worried the ACT government might take over other religious institutions should it choose to. “We are concerned at the precedent being established here that a government can take over the activities of a religious institution and then strip its religious character,” he said. Former vicar-general of the Canberra-Goulburn archdiocese Father Tony Percy urged Anthony Albanese to intervene directly in the matter.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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