Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has personally intervened in the increasingly bitter dispute over the ACT government's forced acquisition of Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, insisting it is not driven by religion.
The Labor leader, himself a Catholic, has stepped into the Calvary controversy just ahead of the expected passing of legislation in the Legislative Assembly to allow the government to compulsorily acquire the hospital by July 3.
Canberra Health Services is expected to start running Calvary from that date.
Mr Dutton has called on the federal government to intervene to stop the acquisition. Members of the Catholic Church have echoed the call.
The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation and the Australian Medical Association are also concerned by what they regard as a lack of consultation.
However, the ACT Labor-Greens government insists the full integration of the public hospital network was needed as it moves to establish a new $1 billion hospital in Canberra's fast expanding north.
Mr Albanese told The Canberra Times he backs the territory government's move.
His personal intervention underscores the high stakes at play in the ACT government's takeover.
"The ACT government are expanding their public hospital service delivery and restructuring healthcare provision as a result," he told this masthead.
"It is not seen as providing any precedent by the ACT government and should not be by anyone else.
"The provision of services by catholic and other faith based entities in health, aged care, education, childcare, welfare and other areas is an important part of Australia's social infrastructure."
The forced acquisition, the biggest in the history of the ACT's self-government, has emerged after negotiations between the ACT government and the Little Company of Mary, the Catholic organisation that runs Calvary, broke down.
The government plans to build the new northside hospital on the Bruce site.
The Prime Minister's intervention comes as the ACT Legislative Assembly is expected to pass the legislation for the compulsory acquisition of the hospital this Wednesday.
- Calvary calls on ACT government to continue negotiations over Bruce public hospital
- ACT government says $1b northside hospital can support stadium vision
- 'A pretty dramatic whack': Zed Seselja questions Calvary Hospital takeover legality
- If Calvary Public Hospital Bruce takeover goes ahead, religion shouldn't be the reason
The legislation will pass with all Labor and Greens members to vote in support of the move. The bill has been allowed to bypass normal procedures as it will pass the parliament before a committee holds an inquiry.
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith only introduced the legislation on May 11. The ACT government said it had moved quickly to ensure certainty for staff.
The ACT government has also held out the prospect that the construction of a new hospital at Bruce will help support a multi-use precinct at the AIS, including a major rebuild of Canberra Stadium.
The Canberra Liberals are staunchly opposed to the move and acting Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has previously said he thought there was a chance the federal government could intervene.
"I think there would be a lot of federal Labor members looking at what's happening in the ACT and saying they are out of control," he said on May 19.
Federal Labor MP for Bean David Smith has previously also expressed concern at a lack of consultation.
"My concern is with change of this nature it's just critical to ensure you consult all the relevant stakeholders but particularly the workforce," he said.
"We know there's been a significant impact on the workforce through COVID and what we don't want to see is further unintended consequences by a lack of certainty."
The ACT government's decision to take over Calvary came less than a month after the release of a report on access to abortion services in the ACT criticised Calvary.
In its report, the inquiry said it was "problematic that one of the ACT's major hospitals is, due to an overriding religious ethos, restricted in the services that can be delivered to the Canberra community."
But the ACT government has insisted the change is being made on the grounds of efficiency, not religion.
Nonetheless, former Liberal ACT senator Zed Seselja said described the acquisition as a "pretty dramatic whack against both people of the religious faith, people of Catholic faith, in this case, but also on property rights."
Mr Dutton has condemned the takeover as an "attack on religion".
"I'm just not aware of an action like it elsewhere in the country or, frankly, around the world, where a government has taken a decision based on their opposition to a religion, or to compulsorily acquire a hospital in these circumstances," he said.
We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on The Canberra Times website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. See our moderation policy here.