The federal Coalition has called for a Senate inquiry to investigate the ACT government’s forced takeover of Calvary Hospital for “ideological reasons”, after the Catholic health provider lost its legal bid to halt the controversial acquisition. A full bench of the ACT Supreme Court dismissed the Catholic-owned hospital’s legal challenge, which argued legislation enshrined by the Barr government to orchestrate the forced takeover of the north Canberra site was invalid for reasons that are yet to be revealed. Religious leaders have criticised the decision which paves the way for the ACT Labor government to build a new hospital on the Bruce site, for setting a precedent by acquiring Calvary. The hospital was criticised this year by an ACT parliamentary committee, chaired by Greens member Jonathan Davis, for its reluctance to offer abortions.
Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Michaelia Cash said the judgment revealed the ACT government’s “appalling use of public power for ideological reasons”, and condemned its conduct as bullying. “This will see ACT residents lose out,” Senator Cash said. “The ACT government has shown it will resort to bullying and stand over tactics if it doesn’t get its way.” Opposition health spokesman Anne Ruston said the judgement set a “dangerous precedent” for other religious institutions including aged-care homes. The Australian Christian Lobby political director Rob Norman said the outcome exposed the vulnerability of religious institutions to “totalitarianism by law”, adding that when “rampant anti-life sentiment rules, we all suffer”. “While there may be avenues of appeal, the decision reveals that governments which are given to tear up solemn agreements because of their ideological bent, may often succeed in the short term,” Mr Norman said.
“The ordinary person or business has little or no protection against a state determined to impose its view on its people.” Norman said. Calvary Health Care said it would “take time to consider the judgement once we receive it”, though the health provider’s barrister David Williams indicated in court it intended to appeal the decision, “Pending the provision of the reasons, Your Honour will be aware the consideration of the appeal right is difficult without the reasons,” he said. Canberra and Goulburn Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse said he was “very disappointed” with the decision and he “looked forward to reading the reasons upon which it was made”. Justice David Mossop handed down the decision on behalf of the full bench, dismissing Mr Williams’ argument that the Barr government’s Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill was invalid because it did not satisfy just terms to acquire the property.
Lawyers representing Calvary Public Hospital accused the ACT government of orchestrating an “active, hostile takeover” of the Catholic facility, as they argued to halt the acquisition that the legislation being used to gain control of the site was invalid. Catholic leaders have criticised the ACT government for setting a dangerous precedent and undermining religious freedoms by forcibly acquiring the hospital, which has come under criticism in the past for its stance on voluntary assisted dying and abortion. LNP senator Matt Canavan is organising support for a motion to investigate all aspects of the Calvary purchase. Church, business and medical leaders have claimed the new law risks setting a precedent for the takeover of religious-run services, is concerning staff and patients and is a “sovereign risk” to businesses with leasehold property in the ACT.
Justice Mossop said the court was “not in a position to provide its reasons at this stage” and lifted the interlocutory order preventing the government from commencing its takeover of the site. ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the decision provided certainty and cleared the way for the government to deliver a $1bn hospital to ACT residents, flagging that she anticipated that the legislation would be subject to “some further legal processes”. In an all-day hearing, Mr. Williams argued the government had not satisfied the just terms requirement of the acquisition because it had not been reasonably compensated for the loss of the Bruce site including “rents, rights of way, rights of profit and usage of land”. He contended that the legislation was rendered invalid “as the act supplies no compensation for the acquisition of the business”.
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