11 May 2023

No holds barred: Government's new ruthless edge carries big risks

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr is becoming the master of the fait accompli. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The ACT Government’s clandestine and ruthless approach to taking over Calvary Public Hospital will either be admired for dealing swiftly with what it considers a public policy problem or condemned for its underhandedness.

The government has obviously decided the benefits of a single public health system are worth the risk and believes that, legally, it is on firm ground.

Calvary National CEO Martin Bowles, a former federal Secretary of Health, doesn’t like it but admits that governments can do these things.

That doesn’t mean Calvary is not going to go down without a fight and there is still plenty that could go wrong in the government’s grand stratagem.

READ MORE Ambushed Calvary digs in for legal battle over hospital takeover

What it reveals is a new hardness to the government, safe in its coalition with the Greens and with the Opposition so on the nose in the electorate that the government hardly acknowledges it.

It seems to have reached its limits on the virtues of consultation and is now firmly fixed on outcomes.

When its suits it, this government can switch to stealth mode.

In this case, Calvary just didn’t see the takeover coming.

Canberra’s community groups involved in the planning review may sympathise, frustrated at how the government seems to have made up its mind and is hell-bent on getting what it wants because it can.

They might also argue that the government is becoming more secretive given the number of redactions in Freedom of Information releases, or how some just disappear into bureaucratic black holes.

But the Calvary stealth operation and the swiftness of the manoeuvre take things to a new level.

Does it point to how the government will handle future contentious projects – light rail, for instance?

READ ALSO ‘Dictatorial-style stitch-up’: Calvary land acquisition will be debated before full committee scrutiny delivered

For some who lament proposals delayed, changed beyond recognition, or even dying a death by consultation, this new government resolve is long overdue.

Some might think, especially on light rail, “Just get it done!”

Others might be taken aback, wondering what else is the government keeping from us and whether it has gone too far.

This is an opening the Canberra Liberals will pursue for all their life.

Acting Leader Jeremy Hanson has already declared the government out of control, something he will need to back up and illustrate.

The government is no doubt calculating that come election day, it can point to a new light rail stage underway, the Canberra Hospital expansion complete or almost complete, and a new northside hospital and a new Canberra Theatre Centre on the way, along with a new planning system set to deliver a lot more housing.

In other words – results.

It’s up to voters to pass judgment on whether the ends justify the means or if the government and a galvanised Chief Minister Andrew Barr are guilty of overreach.

But the way it introduced already prepped legislation into the Assembly that no one else knew about or could study beforehand, and then rammed through for debate is a level of high-handedness that many in democratic, progressive Canberra may find disquieting.

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ChrisinTurner3:56 pm 13 May 23

A public hospital should be owned by the public who paid for it, and not subject to instructions on treatment options from the Vatican.

HiddenDragon7:47 pm 12 May 23

While the circumstances and subject at hand are obviously quite different, there’s more than a whiff of November 11, 1975 to the handling of this episode – aptly so, because the phrase which was memorably used by, and later against, Malcolm Fraser – “a manic determination to get his own way” – so often comes to mind when observing the ACT government.

The 1975 coup had within it the seeds of the ultimate destruction of the plotters, and it’s easy enough to imagine a similar outcome for this little effort – we’ll see, even if the revenge is served stone cold.

Victor Bilow4:59 pm 12 May 23

Hell bent for leather and they keep on there arrogant way as always. We do as we want and we dont give a hoot, as the ACT community has set us on a pedestal for ever.

This isn’t a new hardness as that disregard for due process, consultation and consideration of community has been there for a long time. It’s more that they feel indestructible and untouchable, so don’t need to bother with appearances any more. They’re so smug, that they do whatever they want expecting no negative consequences. Not a good thing.

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