UPDATED 6:15 pm: ACT Independent Senator David Pocock has accused the Federal Coalition and Greens of setting up a Senate inquiry by “stealth” after the parties teamed up to refer a bill that seeks to amend the ACT Self-Government (Consequential Provisions) Act 1988 to a senate committee for inquiry.
It could potentially open up the chance for the Senate to launch an inquiry into the compulsory acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.
Mr Pocock abstained from voting on Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan’s private bill on Thursday (22 June); however, he does support an inquiry at an ACT Government level.
While he acknowledged the concerns expressed by some in the community about the compulsory acquisition, he slammed the referral of the bill as the Federal government looking to meddle in Territory business.
“The ACT Legislative Assembly’s Health and Community Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing was in the process of considering my request to the ACT Government to hold an inquiry into this matter,” he said.
“Today, we saw interstate federal senate colleagues from the Coalition and the Greens team up to interfere in an ACT Government issue.
“After a 25-year battle to restore our Territory rights, I am concerned about the precedent this sets.”
He expressed fears the federal inquiry could potentially be highly politicised rather than a “genuine attempt” to properly examine the process which led to the ACT Government’s decision to acquire the land.
Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has also weighed in on the developments, stating that committee consideration of legislation was standard process but she wasn’t happy with the decision.
“It’s very frustrating at some level that the Senate has recently voted to uphold Territory rights in relation to removing those restrictions in the Self-Government Act around our capacity to make our own decision on voluntary assisted dying, and then are now debating another bill to restrict Territory rights,” she said.
“We don’t believe there is any need for this bill.”
She said the decision would not impact the process of transitioning the northside hospital to Canberra Health Services.
UPDATED 3:40 pm: ACT Health’s plans to seamlessly transition Calvary Hospital into the public system may hit another road bump with the surprise news that the Senate will mount an inquiry regarding the acquisition after federal Greens and Coalition senators banded together today.
Independent ACT senator David Pocock abstained from the vote for a second time, despite supporting the need for an inquiry into the takeover. He’s previously cited concerns regarding the Commonwealth’s right to intervene in matters that would otherwise be outside its jurisdiction.
Last week, Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash described the contentious plans to take over the Little Company of Mary’s property, previously operated with public funding under a long lease arrangement, as a “sordid affair”. 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?”
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan then attempted to refer the takeover to the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, but the bid 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 related issues.
Today, however, federal Greens have made a Senate inquiry possible by combining with the Coalition. The ACT Greens form a key part of the Labor coalition that governs the ACT and have sided with the Chief Minister’s takeover plans.
Senator Canavan’s Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill 2023 was designed to require the ACT Government to investigate the compulsory acquisition.
The federal parliamentary Greens have now thrown their support behind an amendment asking that “in respect of the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill 2023, the bill be referred immediately to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 9 August 2023”.
Senator David Pocock abstained from the first vote last Thursday (15 June) on the grounds that while an inquiry may be necessary, it should be at the level of government that made the decision.