10 May 2023

Government to take over Calvary Public on way to building $1 billion northside hospital

| Ian Bushnell
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hospital artist's impression

An artist’s impression of what the proposed northside hospital could look like. Image: ACT Government.

The ACT Government will take over the Calvary Public Hospital site in Bruce where it plans to build a new hospital to serve Canberra’s booming northern suburbs as part of a single public health network.

Calvary Public will transfer to ACT Government ownership and be operated by Canberra Health Services, with more than $1 billion set aside in the 2023‑24 Budget to deliver the new northside hospital that will replace it.

The government will introduce legislation into the Legislative Assembly tomorrow (11 May) to compulsorily acquire the Calvary Public Hospital land and transition existing Calvary staff and assets to the Territory by 3 July.

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The shock announcement comes after what the government said was the failure of months of talks with Calvary Health Care to negotiate a new agreement, but Calvary National CEO Martin Bowles still called the decision “unexpected and unilateral”.

“Calvary is extremely disappointed in the ACT Government’s unexpected and unilateral decision to introduce legislation that effectively dissolves our partnership on public health delivery in the Territory,” he said.

Mr Bowles said it was distressing news for the hospital’s 1800 staff who were not consulted about the potential ramifications of the decision.

“Calvary will continue to provide uninterrupted, quality care to the people of Canberra while currently considering the ACT Government’s decision and next steps,” he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said it was a decision that was not taken lightly but was in the best interests of the people of Canberra and had nothing to do with the fact Calvary was Catholic-run.

Mr Barr said taking over the Bruce campus and building a new hospital there would deliver a more efficient and effective health system for the city.

“This decision means a more connected health system, one that will deliver better outcomes for our workforce, for patients and for our community,” he said.

The government plans to start construction of the new hospital by mid-decade, with completion expected in 2030.

Mr Barr said the acquisition would happen on just terms including compensation but would not speculate on what amount that could be, although he noted that the Little Company of Mary had received the land for free and the ACT Government had paid for all hospital assets.

He also could not say what the sticking points were in negotiations with Calvary as they were subject to a confidentiality agreement.

Nor would he say why the takeover plans were kept from staff and the general public, only to say it was a unanimous decision of the Cabinet and government, including the ACT Greens.

man at lectern

Chief Minister Andrew Barr: “This is about building a more efficient and effective public hospital network in the ACT.” Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the takeover was needed before the new hospital was built so that it could be part of a genuinely integrated health network.

Ms Stephen-Smith moved to reassure staff that little would change for them, although she acknowledged that some may not wish to stay on.

“There was a small handful of staff that the transition team will need to work with on an individual basis, and we strongly encourage those staff to make contact with the transition team and make themselves known,” she said.

“Our clear aim is that staff will be able to keep doing the same job with the same team in a public hospital that respects the care you provide every day to patients and to each other.

“We see you, we value you, we want you to continue doing your important work, your job in your team in your hospital.”

Ms Rachel-Stephen-Smith said the short transition period aimed to minimise disruption for staff and patients.

She said one of the reasons the government preferred the Bruce campus for the new hospital was the connection it would have with the already-established private services on the site.

But having any private provider delivering the ACT’s second largest hospital would mean maintaining a fragmented system at a time when the pressure on public hospitals was greater than ever and was only forecast to grow.

“Placing the pressure on Canberra Hospital to continue to manage the vast majority of increased demand through extremely fast-paced responses is a level of inefficiency that the ACT can no longer afford,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

She said operating a single network would not fix all of the problems with the ACT health service, but it would help.

“There are a range of areas where despite the best will from all sides, we still don’t have Territory-wide waiting lists,” she said.

“We still have unequal treatment between the northside and the southside because of our two different providers.”

This is the second time the ACT Government has moved to acquire Calvary Public after an aborted bid more than a decade ago, but Mr Barr said circumstances had now changed.

“Certainly, the city’s growth, the need for a much larger hospital on the northside are all factors that we’ve considered together, of course, with the opportunities that an integrated health system will deliver,” he said.

“We believe the benefits outweigh the risks.”

Mr Barr said the decision was not a reflection on the care that Calvary Public had provided over the last 44 years.

“Calvary Public Hospital has provided outstanding service to Canberrans over more than four decades and we acknowledge and honour that,” he said.

“This is about building a more efficient and effective public hospital network in the ACT.”

He would not speculate on what legal action Calvary might take given its contract still had more than 70 years to run.

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Canberra Liberals Acting Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson called the decision ideological and anti-faith.

“This forced acquisition of Calvary is wrong ethically, it’s wrong morally, it’s wrong legally and it’s wrong procedurally, and they’re trying to ram this through following secret backroom deals,” he said.

Mr Hanson said the decision would be a disaster for health in the ACT.

“It’s going to be bad for patients, it’s going to be bad for clinicians, it’s bad for the territory,” he said.

Mr Hanson said the government could potentially waste hundreds of millions of dollars to forcibly acquire a hospital that was already providing a great service.

He again called for a Royal Commission into health in the ACT.

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The Canberra Hospital campus is opressive, difficult to navigate and traverse. Making another massive hospital on the existing North Canberra site will probably result in a similar nightmarish experience for hospital users. Might be better to build a new tertiary hospital somewhere else in Canberra (Tuggeranong seems to be a popular suggestion) and leave North Canberra as is. Easier to park, find your way around and better amenity. Plus, surely it’s cheaper to build new than renovate.

Just build the big new shiny hospital (obviously going to be Andrew Barr’s legacy to Canberra) in the Tuggeranong Valley. We in the south are getting a little tired of every new development going to Gungahlin, the Chief Minister’s electorate, while Tuggeranong remains the ACT’s forgotten area,

This has nothing to do with delivering better health service to North Canberra! ACT Health’s agenda/only interest is taking control of the entire administrations/health care workers of the region. ACT health has no interest in how well it will run, just take a look at Canberra Hospital.

wait for it, the real agenda will turn out to be nothing to do with a hospital or health care, but to build more shoe box apartments on the site

Capital Retro5:44 pm 11 May 23

For all you Catholic haters be aware that Canberra Health Services allows them to use the Multifaith room at Canberra Hospital, Building 3, Level 2 (street level) which is a place for private prayer and individual or group meditation. Beside being used as a Christian Chapel it is also available as a Jewish Temple and for daily Muslim prayers.

Calvary have Pastoral care workers work alongside physicians, nurses, therapists and other staff to provide a complete approach to healing.

Pastoral Visitors visit regularly from Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and Jehovah’s Witness denominations.

Your own Parish, Pastor, Rabbi or Spiritual caregiver can be contacted at your request.

All government departments and many private companies have separate rooms for staff of all faiths to use for private prayer CR!

Bob the impala8:34 pm 11 May 23


I believe there is also a prayer/meditation room in Parliament House, which room is rumoured to have been used for some very soulful exercise.

What is your point? Of course there are people who believe in one of the available religions. There is sound reason to cater for their beliefs to an extent not impinging on the good of the community.

Nick Stevens7:09 am 12 May 23

It’s not anti Catholic at all, more the case that most of us with a glimpse of a sliver of a brain, have left all that superstitious nonsense behind at about 5 years of age.
Whilst I agree that some of us need to be comforted at the moment of our demise, that a brand new bicycle awaits us all in forever sphere, I would rather a Health Facility with science as it’s deity.

to pull down rather then refurbish perfectly good buildings .just to make work for the union is corrupt. nappy valley needs a medical hospital .
bring on the independents

Most people would agree that having a certain sector of one religious group forcing their own religious agenda on a publicly funded facility is fundamentally untenable. The decision is therefore a good one.

History certainly suggests the implementation is likely to be a complete debacle, but that does not change the fact that it’s the right decision. So they get a tick now and the cross does not come until they have earned it.

So you’re suggesting it should instead have a certain sector of one, albeit different, religious group (anti-theists) forcing their own religious agenda on a publicly funded facility, which then will ironically become for you, fundamentally tenable.

Except those ‘anti-theisis’ are the representatives of our secular democratic system, Bob

Billy Monfries8:05 pm 12 May 23

They have been running that hospital since 1971, and have multi faith rooms for all. Suddenly a problem now? Prejudice and discrimination is the barr motive here.

Woden is the geographic centre of town. Its not ‘South’ like the government will gas light you to believe.

One has to wonder if the 100 year old ‘South’ Canberra is getting confused with Tuggeranong in the minds of the elected?

Clever Interrobang7:00 am 12 May 23

Woden is not the geographical centre of town, all you have to do is look at a map to know that

Woden used to be the geographical centre of population, but as more people have moved north over the last 30 years, that is no longer the case

South Canberra is common shorthand for southern canberra generally, you are the one getting confused.

So where is the geographic centre?

South Canberra is the area north of Woden but south of the lake. Always has been.
Its griffen legacy.
Doesn’t include woden and doesn’t include tuggeranong.

Capital Retro7:00 pm 13 May 23

The geographical centre of Canberra and Queanbeyan is MLOMC (Mugga Lane Odour Management Centre).

Catholic Education Canberra must be looking over their shoulder today, concerned the regime will nationalise their schools next, as there’s been plenty of ideological disagreement in recent years.

TrevorHickman4:08 pm 11 May 23

I know, wouldn’t that be brilliant – an entirely secular school system rather than a proportion of it made up of tax-dodging money making schools with a dreadful history of sexual abuse of pupils.

Stop trying to divert the argument. There are many differences between the situations. The biggest one is just how much public money has already been invested in Calvary Hospital – almost all the buildings, equipment and staff training has been funded publicly. The other difference is lack of alternative hospital arrangements north of the lake. Catholic schools are very different because is almost every suburb that has a Catholic school, there is a public alternative giving families a clear choice. This is not the case with hospitals.

Why is the Catholic Church running a Hospital ? How many Little Company of Mary nuns are working there as nurses?
The only reason the Church is involved is so it can have an influence around abortion & assisted dying.

Perhaps you’ve forgotten who started hospitals in the first place (hint: it wasn’t governments).

Billy Monfries8:07 pm 12 May 23

We know you hate Catholicism. They have been running the hospital since 1971, and have multi faith prayer rooms. Since is about both yours and Barr’s hatred and prejudices toward Roman Catholics.

Brett Foster10:29 am 13 Jul 23

The Little Company of Mary has been caring for Australians for a 130yrs.
They’ve been running hospitals before the Federation of Australia.
They offered the government 4 hectares to build the new facility which could have provided those services of human sacrifice.

Billy Monfries7:15 am 11 May 23

This is a nasty decision, and it has everything to do with their communist mentally hatred of Roman Catholics. The Barr labor/greens have mismanaged the Canberra Hospital aling with the territories finances so badly, that they require a complete overhaul. They want to destroy Calvary because it is Roman Catholic run church, along with the fact that they are not required to the build a new hospital, one that should be in Gungahlin.

Much of the funding for Calvary has already been through the public purse. There is no need for the Catholic Church to be involved.

Nick Stevens10:08 am 11 May 23

Maybe a nice lay down followed by a nice cuppa will be helpful for you Billy, mind you….. better keep your door locked, with all those nasty Roman Catholic hating commo’s lurking around.

Billy Monfries8:01 pm 12 May 23

Truth an issue for you Stevens? Anglo.

Billy Monfries8:03 pm 12 May 23

The same public purse that a huge number of Catholics pay into? Why don’t you just admit that you hate Roman Catholics? You have zero integrity.

Bet the staff can’t wait to transfer to ACT health, lots will be looking for a job, who would ant to be associated with ACT health

“Our clear aim is that (the same) staff will be able to keep doing the same job with the same team…” in a new building… Well, that should solve all our problems.

“We see you, we value you, we want you to continue doing your important work, your job in your team in your hospital.” Didn’t realise we had moved to Pandora… who writes this stuff?

This a good decision. Putting both of Canberra’s major hospitals into public hands. The Catholic owned Calvary hospital receives significant taxpayer monies. The church, namely the Little Company of Mary was gifted the land the hospital stands on in 1971. Taxpayers have paid for the hospital’s expansion over the years and all buildings. The church and its hospital have chosen not to offer certain treatment and reproductive healthcare services to women. This is wrong and discriminatory.
I remember well about 13 years ago the government taking steps to buy Calvary Hospital and Clare Holland House. Cardinal Pell was in there at the time giving orders and throwing his weight around. Tony Abbott also weighed in and he is back doing the same again, labelling the government overbearing and arrogant. Talk about pots and kettles! The Canberra Liberals including then leader Zed Seselja and MLA Vicki Dunne were in there too, doing their best to scuttle the plan. Fortunately, they are all gone. The church, its leadership and the Vatican pussy footed around and the deal fell through.
This supposedly new and reformed Liberal party and its leader Jeremy Hanson are in there again, throwing their weight around, making all sorts of accusations against the government and trying to scuttle the plan.
One of my comrades assured me today that both major parties read Jack D. in the Riot-Act. I will take advantage. I am sending this urgent plea to Andrew and Rachel. Hang in there comrades. Don’t be wedged. Expect plenty more muck and accusations to come your way. Stay strong. Particularly from those rabid opponents of the deal in the Liberal party and the church.

Tom McLuckie9:35 pm 10 May 23

You don’t seem to have a problem Jack D with a load of public money going into the joint private venture of the tram (that will be in the $B’s) or the PPP for the Courts (nearly $1B), contrary you’ve defended that. Little bit of hypocrisy and pick and choose when private organisations provide public services to suit your painted on ACT Labor bias and support. they cannot do wrong. Bahaha.

Jack D,
For once I agree with you (at least partially).

There’s plenty of benefits for government control over a new and expanded North side hospital.

If it’s managed well.

The problem being, the government has shown over 20 years of government that they are incapable of improving the health system and indeed have lowered performance in that time.

You know, the actual people in charge, the ALP and Greens rather than your constant focus on the Liberals?

Perhaps they should listen to the AMA’s calls to hold that Royal Commission rather than the extreme evasiveness and secrecy to the clear problems with Health?

Also, I’m hardly surprised that you claim the ALP members are reading your comments, they’re sitting in the room with you when you write them aren’t they.

Yes Tom McLuckie I am a strong supporter of the tram and the joint private venture for its expansion. I have never expressed an opinion on the PPP for the courts.
The difference between the deal to establish the Calvary Hospital and the ACT government’s PPP for the expansion of a light rail network in Canberra are stark!
Calvary Hospital is owned by the Catholic church and is operated by the Little Company of Mary Health Care. The hospital was gifted the land it stands on by the Commonwealth in 1971. Since its establishment, taxpayers have paid for the hospital’s services including its expansion and buildings. The church owns all of these assets. The Church and its hospital discriminate by refusing to offer certain treatments and reproductive healthcare services to women. The hospital has become run-down and there is now a greater need for a more modern hospital which will meet all ACT residents and its city’s growing needs.
The expansion of the light rail network on the other hand is a joint venture with a private operator which will deliver a transport system which will benefit ALL Canberrans. At the end of the contract term in 20 years, the government will assume ownership of all light rail network assets.

How on earth do you claim Light Rail benefits All Canberrans?
The first stage is utilised by less than 5% of the population with enormous cost that could have been utilised far more efficiently elsewhere in the transport sector.

This is outrageous. Where is the community consultation with this decision.

Capital Retro9:00 am 11 May 23

More importantly, where is the money coming from?

HiddenDragon7:00 pm 10 May 23

Abracadabra and hey presto! – here comes the mega gimmick/wedge for the 2024 ACT election, complete with the usual slippery timetable – it’s like an episode of Utopia, with the script by Dan Brown.

In the meantime, it will be a handy distraction from some of the pungent stink bombs which are currently going off around the town.

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