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And so it begins: Government by the Religious Right

By Kate Mannix - posted Thursday, 31 March 2011

The day after the election, a Herald/Nielsen survey showed that most people, well, 50% - thought that the state of health care in NSW was our most urgent issue.

The new Liberal parliamentary party contains many on the religious right, including Opus Dei member David Clarke, and former Right to Life president, Greg Smith. Therefore it is worth considering the influence of the religious right, and its possible outcomes for health and aged care over the next four, or eight, years.



Health is expensive for governments, and hospitals are the biggest ticket item within the health budget: in 2008-09, state and territory governments funded $18.4 billion of the total expenditure of $33.7 billion for public hospital services. This amounts to 66.4% of the states' total recurrent health funding.

That is why governments, state and federal, have been actively seeking opportunities to 'privatise' hospitals since the early 90s. We can easily speculate that this trend will continue.

In NSW there are presently 85 private hospitals and 89 day procedure centres. Many are owned and operated by an arm of one of the churches. One such is the Hawkesbury District Hospital, run by the largest private provider of health services in NSW, Catholic Health Care Services. Hawkesbury District Hospital is in fact the only hospital in the Hawkesbury Local Government Area, where a population of 62,000 is growing and likely to grow faster. Catholic Health Care Services runs the public hospital, which contains a private hospital, and extensive community care services.

Bad luck then, if you live in Windsor and wish to have a termination. Or a vasectomy, IVF or any 'artificial' contraception, or the 'morning after pill' to induce abortion after rape. Amniocentesis, the procedure used to test for possible birth defects, is also banned at Hawkesbury, and indeed in every Catholic hospital.

This is not an exaggeration. What must be understood is that Catholic hospitals are legally constructed so that they report to a legal entity similar to a religious order, in this case an order subject to the Bishops. Religious orders are under an obligation to observe canon (church) law. Under canon law, the Code of Catholic Ethics (2001) must be put into practice. There is no wriggle room.

Much of the Gillard/O'Farrell negotiation for reform is still in play, but health care in NSW is already a mutual convenience for governments desperate to outsource their responsibilities and churches eager for new relevance and a regular income. And further privatising of hospital services, under the new Liberal Government, will probably be in favour of the churches – and the Parliamentary Religious Right may be relied upon to ensure this occurs. The churches will remain effectively free to operate hospitals in accord with their own beliefs, regardless of community values or the wishes of the individual.


Aged Care and community services

Similarly, churches are the dominant players in aged care, and in a huge variety of community services. Such services include disability services, family services, paediatric, children and youth services, mental health services, palliative care, alcohol and drug services, veterans' health, step-down transitional care, rehabilitation, diagnostics, preventative public health, medical and bioethics research institutes.

'Special Purpose Payments' SPPs

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About the Author

Kate Mannix is the founding editor of On Line Catholics, which she edited between 2003 and 2005. Before that she was a senior researcher at ABC Television. She has edited the Catholic Church's e-zines Ozspirit, and various publications for schools.

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All articles by Kate Mannix

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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