Community concerns grow over Calvary Hospital takeover

Community concern is growing in Canberra over the sudden announcement of the Calvary public hospital takeover by the ACT government.

A town hall meeting convened at St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra this week was attended by hundreds of people alarmed by the forced takeover of the Catholic run hospital.

Acting ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson, acting Australian Christian Lobby chief executive Wendy Francis, and Managing Director of the Human Rights Law Alliance John Steenhof all addressed the meeting.

Mr Steenhof said:

The ACT Government obscures its institutional animus towards Christianity behind a supposedly ambitious planning agenda. We have a cast of interchangeable politicians and bureaucrats all intoning about ‘efficiency’ and ‘integration’ to numb the public to the extreme, abrupt, and ideologically led compulsory acquisition proposal.

The ACT government will soon introduce some of the most extreme euthanasia laws in the world. One of the key barriers to the compelled universal roll-out of euthanasia on both the willing and unwilling is Calvary.

This takeover is a significant encroachment upon religious freedom, particularly the freedom of conscience that is central to Calvary Hospital's operation.

This incursion is contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Australia is a signatory. The Covenant guarantees freedom of religion and thought, speech and expression, and conscience. The autonomy of religious communities, such as Calvary, against unjustified State interference is recognised by the UN and is a fundamental pillar of religious freedom rights.

The ACT Human Rights Act 2004 ostensibly protects these freedoms. Still, the Government's Human Rights Compatibility Statement for the Calvary takeover law neglects to identify freedom of conscience as a relevant affected freedom. This neglect points towards a concerning illiteracy of human rights among our public institutions, including the ACT Government.

The takeover of Calvary, if it goes ahead, will weaken a vital barrier against unjustified State accumulation of power and an encroachment on the rights of all Territorians. As Mr Steenhof said:

Religious institutions are an important check on State power. By encouraging people to identify with and look out for one another, religious institutions and other associations help to keep the State in check. No associations historically have been better at promoting co-operative social projects and defying State oppression than Christian organisations.

It will also set a disturbing precedent for future acquisition of institutions that stand in the way of government ideology, including Christian schools, aged care facilities, and adoption agencies.

There are several avenues open to Calvary to challenge the decision, including legal and constitutional challenges, as well as various political and advocacy options.

Calvary is yet to reveal what course of action it will pursue.