The Prime Minister has reiterated he supports the rights of a territory to determine its own positions amid controversy over the federal Greens supporting the Coalition is setting up a Senate inquiry into the ACT government's forced takeover of Calvary hospital.
In a surprise move on Thursday, the Greens combined with the Coalition to refer LNP Senator Matt Canavan's Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment Bill, a private senators' bill, to the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs legislative committee.
The federal opposition is firmly against the now advanced move by the ACT Labor-Greens government against Calvary's Catholic operators to create a new $1 billion northside hospital. Senator Canavan's bill seeks to make the territory government hold an inquiry which would report back before June 30, 2024. But the Labor-controlled committee will now inquire into the bill and, by extension, the compulsory takeover and its effects.
Anthony Albanese said the Senate often works in "mysterious ways" and he's indicated he is mindful of concerns about the rights of territories.
"I support the rights of the territory to determine its own positions," he told reporters in Canberra.
"I regard that the Catholic Church or other churches have an important role to play in professional social services. I don't regard this as a precedent.
"And I think that they will continue to play an important role, whether it be in health care, in aged care, and disability care. They're an important part of our social policy architecture in this country."
The Greens are adamant they will not support Senator Canavan's bill when it comes to the vote and are not supporting his "latest culture war", as described by the government.
The federal and ACT Greens have both stated they will always support territory rights and supporting the referral was "standard process".
The senate inquiry is a "Plan B" by Senator Canavan, who wants to "get to the bottom" of whether religion played a part in the ACT government's decision.
"There are of course, concerns about what happens next to aged care services, palliative care services, even schools, Catholic schools," he said.
Meanwhile ACT independent senator David Pocock regards it as interstate federal senate colleagues from the Coalition and the Greens teaming up to "interfere in an ACT government issue" and effectively setting up a federal senate inquiry "by stealth".
He abstained from the vote on Thursday as he has been fielding community concern about the forced acquisition.
"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.
"After a 25-year battle to restore our territory rights, I am concerned about the precedent this sets."
Senator Canavan insists the newly referred Senate inquiry will not alone stop the acquisition, but he is expecting the territory government will be a "bit embarrassed".
"I'm not telling a territory what to do. The bill doesn't tell the territory what to do. An inquiry cannot tell a territory what to do. The territory can do what it would like to do. But I think one thing the territory government cannot expect is that it should be somehow immune from scrutiny," he told The Canberra Times.