Chief Minister Andrew Barr has compared the Calvary takeover to the decision to build a light rail network, claiming the government has majority support for the move but there will always be a sizable minority who will oppose it.
Plans are proceeding for Calvary Public Hospital to transition to Canberra Health Services by 3 July, with $50 million in the ACT Budget for that purpose and $64 million to complete the detailed design of the new Northside Hospital to be built on the Bruce site.
The budget papers say construction is expected to begin by mid-decade, with the hospital to be operational by mid-2030‑31.
Mr Barr told Region that sometimes in politics decisions needed to be made in the face of a degree of opposition.
“I suspect that this one is not dissimilar to the light rail decision in that there will be a sizable minority who are unhappy,” he said.
“I’m under no illusions that there’s a section of the community who think it’s a terrible decision.
“But again, our very clear understanding of the mood of the broader community is that there’s a majority, probably similar in nature to the sort of majority that light rail enjoys, who support the decision.”
Mr Barr said it was not a new issue, harking back to the government’s 2010 attempt to buy Calvary that was only vetoed by the Vatican, but the difference now was that the need for the Northside Hospital had become acute.
He said the government had bought time for a decade, but ultimately the issue had to be confronted and, given the Catholic Church’s recent reaction, repeating an attempt to buy Calvary would have ended the same way.
While the government had attempted to negotiate a new service agreement with Calvary, it had no choice but to pursue a takeover when that failed.
“We knew we needed to make the investment in new hospital facilities that a 50-year-old hospital built for 70,000 people with 250 beds was not going to cut it for 250,000 people and growing, so there needed to be new investment,” Mr Barr said.
“We had to own the land and own the building, or else we couldn’t capitalise the expenditure.”
Mr Barr said the takeover was done for the right reasons and would make the ACT health system more efficient.
“This goes to the question of efficiency of the health system, which is always going to suffer on an economies-of-scale perspective, but we can somewhat reduce that,” he said.
“It’s a pretty shining example of a microeconomic reform in the health sector within the ACT to be able to deliver our health services in a more integrated way and get better value for money for the one-third of our budget that we invest in health.”
Mr Barr stands by the way the takeover was announced, saying a consultation period would have been problematic.
“People who don’t like the actual decision will find a process reason: why you didn’t consult early enough? Or you should have done X, Y, or Z. But in the end, their main issue is they don’t like the decision,” he said.
“It was always going to be difficult for us to consult with staff of an organisation that would have been hostile to our intent and who didn’t work for us.”
Mr Barr said the issue of just terms compensation for Calvary Health Care was a matter for negotiation, but if an agreed amount could not be reached, it would end up in the Supreme Court.