31 May 2023

Committee chair slams decision for zero scrutiny on Calvary takeover bill

| Claire Fenwicke
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Elizabeth Kikkert MLA.

Elizabeth Kikkert MLA is the chair of the Standing Committee into Public Accounts, which could have held an inquiry into the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

A scrutiny inquiry chair has blasted her committee colleagues for choosing not to hold any investigative processes into the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill being debated in the Legislative Assembly.

Canberra Liberals MLA Elizabeth Kikkert – who also heads up the Standing Committee into Public Accounts – announced on Wednesday (31 May) that the committee would not conduct any inquiry into the legislation, even if it passes.

Stepping out of her role as chair, Ms Kikkert then slammed the decision, stating inquiries were a “safeguard” against a “concentration of power” by a sitting government, given the ACT does not have two chambers through which to debate, scrutinise and pass legislation.

“Any attempt to bypass or circumvent any inquiry into proposed legislation by a standing committee should, therefore, correctly, be seen as an attempt to avoid scrutiny of the executive,” she said.

“To devalue good legislation, to prevent the citizens of the Territory from engaging with and participating in law-making and policy review, and to disable financial scrutiny – that’s your goal.

“This is precisely what we’re seeing play out in the Assembly today.”

When the legislation was first introduced to the Assembly on 11 May, it was voted debate could occur before any committee inquiry report was handed down.

Ms Kikkert said without scrutiny, the risk was that a concentration of power would lead to “extreme measures” being decided that lacked broader community support.

“[These are] checks designed to hold a government to account and to check or restrain the government’s use of power – they’re not trivial things at all. They’re there for a reason,” she said.

“When members of the parties forming the government decide to foolishly toss aside those checks, just because scrutiny might be in the government’s way, the outcome will never be good.”

She said she felt an interim committee report could have been ready by 31 May, but that her inquiry colleagues – Greens MLA Andrew Braddock and Labor MLA Michael Pettersson – had voted against it.

“They had no appetite for even a partial scrutiny,” Ms Kikkert said.

“Today, I say shame on them, as I said in our meeting.”

Mr Braddock called a point of order, stating Ms Kikkert was disclosing confidential committee information, but Speaker Joy Burch ruled there was no issue.

READ ALSO Legal action ‘only response left’ as ACT Government’s takeover of Calvary Public Hospital looms

Ms Kikkert pointed to an open letter signed by a collective of senior nurses at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, which was emailed to all MLAs at the weekend.

Among issues raised in the letter, the senior nurses specifically mentioned their concerns about how certain government processes appeared to have been bypassed and what precedent this set moving forward.

“If you are familiar with the Speak Up for Safety Program, one of the programs rolled out in public health in response to the [Canberra Health Services] Culture Review, then you should recognise this letter for what it is, an attempt to call a Safety Code on what is currently happening in our public health system and the process by which it has been allowed to happen,” they wrote.

“As members of the Canberra community, it concerns us hugely that we have now set a precedent for due process to be bypassed, for consultation to be bypassed, in order to facilitate the government to do as it pleases.”

They also called the decision of the government to release YouTube videos and transition websites before the legislation passed through the Assembly as an “absolute mockery of democratic processes”.

“This leaves many of us here at Calvary with the question: how do we trust you?” they wrote.

“All of this sets up the system for failure from the outset. A system that cannot withstand much more given what it has been through in recent years.”

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When deciding to proceed with debate on the legislation without an inquiry, the government argued this was in the best interests of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce staff and patients to let them know what was happening in the shortest time.

Ms Kikkert labelled this reasoning a “fake justification”.

“Every single one of [the stakeholders’] concerns could have been avoided if the Public Accounts Committee had been allowed to follow the normal, democratic process of holding a public inquiry into this bill before it was debated and voted on,” she said.

“The security and well-being of Calvary staff have never been anything more than an excuse for this government to let nothing and no one get in its way, including, ironically, the staff at Calvary.

“From the beginning, the real goal is to avoid scrutiny, to prevent consultation and public engagement and, in short, to get what the ACT Government wants – democratic processes be damned.”

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has previously argued consultation was not possible with Calvary staff as they were not employed by the ACT Government.

Debate will continue on the Health Infrastructure Enabling Bill this afternoon, with a vote also expected today.

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William Newby8:09 pm 01 Jun 23

This Socialism can only be stopped with the 2024 election.
A Labor voter my entire life, I fear for the unstoppable power that the Greens are forcing upon us all needs to stop.
Barr and Rattenbury need to stand down yet only an election will stop them.

No matter what you think of the ultimate decision, the government’s behaviour has and continues to be deplorable around consultation, planning and overall governance arrangements.

Their willingness to bypass standard parliamentary processes to avoid scrutiny is just another in a long line of examples around how they’ve been in power far too long. The arrogance is positively dripping from their actions.

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