A bid by federal Coalition members to establish a Senate inquiry into the ACT Government’s forced acquisition of Calvary Hospital has failed to gain any traction on Thursday (15 June).
On 14 June, LNP Senator Michaelia Cash described the takeover as a “sordid affair”, and she and fellow Senator Anne Ruston called for a Senate inquiry.
“The ACT Government’s hostile takeover of the Calvary Hospital is a worrying sign for ACT residents in need of health services,” Senator Ruston said in a statement. “It sets a dangerous precedent for other vital religious health services, including aged care homes – what will this Labor Government do next?”
An attempt on Thursday by LNP Senator Matt Canavan to refer the takeover to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee failed by two votes, with 26 ayes and 28 nays.
The inquiry would have reportedly sought details on the impact on health services in the ACT and surrounds, the takeover’s effects on other private health providers, the consultation processes before making the decision, any legal and economic implications of the takeover, and other related matters.
ACT independent Senator David Pocock abstained after seeking to draw a vote on two separate amendments. “I believe there should be an inquiry but it should be at the level of government that made the decision,” he told Parliament.*
In a separate statement this morning, Senator Pocock said he has received concerns from his constituents and has passed them on to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.
“I have also requested they consider conducting an inquiry in the Legislative Assembly into the handling of the acquisition and the impacts it will have on peoples’ access to healthcare in our city and our region,” he said in the statement.
“The territories are already disadvantaged when it comes to our democratic rights and representation compared to the states. I do not believe we should be ceding even more control to the Commonwealth,” he added. “I will not advocate for our rights as a territory then turn around and cherry-pick particular decisions to be the subject of federal intervention or review where there was no decision making power for the Commonwealth.
“Canberrans want and deserve a better healthcare system than what we have currently and that’s what we need to focus our energy on delivering,” Senator Pocock said.
“I’ve been pushing the federal government to do more in the areas over which they do have jurisdiction, like addressing the severe shortage of GPs in our city.”
In a brief comment to media today, Mr Barr said he was pleased the Senate inquiry didn’t get through, and that he thought the move was heavily laced with politics. “It’s sort of curious that the only time that [the Coalition] are interested in anything that goes on in Canberra is when they can seek to pick a culture war fight,” he said.
He also said it was appropriate that the takeover be scrutinised in the Assembly, and that there will also be a budget estimates process next month. “There’s no shortage of scrutiny in relation to the matter,” he said.
The failure of the Senate inquiry bid seems to mean the takeover is now a fait accompli, after an attempt by Calvary to have the move ruled invalid in the ACT Supreme Court was dismissed, and the subsequent appointment by Calvary of a transition lead.
*Amended for clarity regarding Senator Pocock’s vote