Catholic parishioners across Canberra and southeastern NSW have been asked to gear up for a fight on the compulsory acquisition of Calvary Hospital as the church raises the spectre of enforcing a full payout of the remaining 76-year contract, valued at $276 million per annum.
The ACT Government has already set aside $1 billion to build a new Northside public hospital on the site and taxpayers may need to fund significant compensation to the Little Company of Mary if the acquisition proceeds.
A deal for the ACT Government to acquire the hospital fell through in 2010, but during negotiations, the ACT Government solicitor advised that unless Calvary agreed not to seek compensation, it could claim restitution for giving up its assets before the lease expired.
A Calvary Hospital Taskforce led by former Vice General Father Tony Percy has been set up to marshall support for the fight against the acquisition as senior church figures describe the reaction among Catholics across the region as “hostile in the extreme”.
Calvary Hospital is not owned by the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese, which does not control its operations. But Archbishop Christopher Prowse told church-goers, “There is a rising fear that this extraordinary and completely unnecessary government intervention could set the scene for future ‘acquisitions’ of any faith-based health facility, or indeed any faith-based enterprise including education or social welfare”.
In a letter read out at churches from Eden to West Wyalong over the weekend (13-14 May), Archbishop Prowse said no convincing reasons had been offered for the “draconian” acquisition of the public hospital.
“No systemic issues of concern regarding Calvary’s health outcomes have been identified; to the contrary, the Health Minister made a point of emphasising Calvary’s excellent care for patients. I am deeply troubled about this situation and its implications”, the letter said.
Vicar General Father Richard Thompson told Region that the decision had prompted profound shock and disbelief among church members and, particularly, employees of various faith-based institutions.
He said the church hoped people would “wise up” to the ACT Government and the possibilities the decision opens up for privately owned institutions, particularly those receiving government funding to provide care to the community.
“People are using language like nationalisation, Stalinist, dictatorial,” he said.
“Those are their words, not mine, but there’s no doubt the reaction is deeply hostile.
“There seems to me, personally, to be some deceitful actions and unethical behaviour on the government’s behalf, and it’s upset a lot of people seriously. It would shake many voters to their core, in my view.”
An online petition has been launched, noting that “the proposed timeframe 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”.
Parishioners are being urged to sign the petition before the legislation for acquisition becomes effective on 31 May.