Calvary hospital seeks injunction against hostile takeover

The board of Canberra’s Catholic Calvary Hospital has sought an injunction against the ACT government over its compulsory acquisition of the hospital, arguing that it fails to set fair compensation. The Board is concerned it will set a dangerous precedent for further compulsory acquisitions of faith-based institutions in the Territory, including a Catholic-run palliative care hospice.

The ACT Legislative Assembly was expected to pass the compulsory acquisition of Calvary Hospital after a short debate, despite serious objections from political and religious leaders who fear this could pave the way for national compulsory acquisition of other church-run services.

Calvary’s National Chief Executive, Martin Bowles, criticised the absence of commercial terms in the new laws for the hospital's takeover. “All we have is an announcement and an imposed unrealistic timeline that has distressed our people and could ultimately put clinical safety at risk,” Bowles said.

The ACT Opposition’s acting leader, Jeremy Hanson, voiced concerns that the government hadn’t ruled out compulsory acquisition of Clare Holland House, a highly regarded palliative care hospice.

Despite this, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Federal Health Minister Mark Butler have supported the ACT Government’s forced acquisition without just compensation.

Peter Dutton, who previously urged the Prime Minister to intervene in the matter, condemned the decision:

“This is an extraordinary attack on freedom of religion and on the rights of private and religious health care providers to care for the sick. It sets a dangerous and unsettling precedent for every faith-based school, aged-care provider or social welfare service”.

Mr Dutton also referred to the Commonwealth’s ability to overturn legislation made by the territories:

“This is a Territory law. The Commonwealth government can and should intervene to override the ACT government and make clear that it will not stand for this outrageous hostile acquisition”.

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, appealed to the Prime Minister to directly intervene to protect religious freedom and reassure faith-based organisations about the security of their contracts.

Last week, John Steenhof, Managing Director of Human Rights Law Alliance, spoke with former Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker on Sky News about the nature of the takeover and the ACT government’s track record in dealing with religious organisations:

“The ACT government has largely said this is business as usual, there’s nothing to see here, but there are several concerning and high-handed aspects to the way they are going about this that would suggest this is just one in a long line of ways that this ACT government has shown hostility to people of faith and has tried to encroach on religious freedom”.

Reflecting on the religious freedom implications of the decision, he said:

“If the ACT government can do this to one church operated institution like Calvary hospital, there’s no reason why they can’t do this with other religious organisations, with schools, with other hospitals [and] with aged care”.

You can view the interview here.