The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St whihc features a caricature of Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis and demands action on the Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.
The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St whihc features a caricature of Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis and demands action on the Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.

PROMISED: Hospital money in next NSW budget

NATIONALS MP Chris Gulaptis has told the Grafton Chamber of Commerce he expects to see his Grafton Base Hospital election promise granted when planning money is allocated in the 2020/21 NSW Budget.

Executive officer Annmarie Henderson issued a statement from the chamber this week which confirmed it had received written commitments from Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Minister for Health Brad Hazzard and the Member for Clarence to start the $263.8 million upgrade during this term of government.

"The chamber has advocated in regard to the election promise given before the last state election for works for this redevelopment to commence in this current term of government," the statement read.

"As a result of that advocacy the chamber has received letters not only from Chris Gulaptis but also the Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, and a letter from the NSW Premier herself, Gladys Berejiklian.

"With good news for our community, these letters advise of a commitment to keep this election promise."

The chamber stated the Minister for Health advised that "Health Infrastructure will work with the Northern NSW Local Health District and clinical staff to progress the project through the planning stages".

"This letter also sees a commitment to 'extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the chamber, to ensure the project meets the needs of health professionals, services and the community'.".

Meanwhile, according to the chamber, in a handwritten letter to Mr Gulaptis, the premier wrote "please let the chamber know that I deeply appreciate their feedback and intend to keep all of our commitments".

"Mr Gulaptis has communicated to the chamber that although the next State Budget has been delayed because of the current pandemic and is now not due to be released until October, he expects to see planning money allocated in that budget so works can commence in this term of government," Ms Henderson said.

The $263.8m election promise

Mr Gulaptis announced a $263.8 million upgrade of the Grafton Base Hospital on March 5, 2019 prior to successfully holding onto the seat of Clarence for a third term at the NSW election 18 days later.

Gulaptis $263m pledge to rebuild hospitial: Chris Gulaptis announces the National commitment in government for the $263m rebuild of Grafton Base Hospital
Gulaptis $263m pledge to rebuild hospitial: Chris Gulaptis announces the National commitment in government for the $263m rebuild of Grafton Base Hospital

However there was no mention of the project in the 2019-20 NSW Budget three months after the election on June 18.

'People power' to the rescue

In his pitch to his constituents published in The Daily Examiner two days before the election, Mr Gulaptis admitted sometimes the power he has been delegated with isn't enough, and cited examples of how 'people power' helped realise some of his biggest achievements in government to date.

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis at his office.
Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis at his office. Adam Hourigan

"I believe that same people power will persuade the Government to commit to the $263.8 million overhaul of Grafton Hospital," he said at the time.

That ground swell of public support is slowly but surely gaining momentum, with Clarence Valley Council, the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee and now Grafton Chamber of Commerce all demanding the election promise be followed through during this term of government.

At the Clarence Valley Council meeting earlier this year on March 24, Mayor Jim Simmons put forward a mayoral minute to write to the NSW Premier, Treasurer, Minister for Health and Medical Research and the Deputy Premier asking that the election commitment be honoured and included in the 2020/21 State Budget.

Cr Greg Clancy added while we were living in "unconventional and extreme times" it was not the "restoration of a football field in Sydney" which could be left "for a couple of years".

"This is health, this is a hospital and what we need to be improving urgently," Cr Clancy said.

"I don't think we should let the local member or the State Government off the hook on this one."

Another promise... from the premier

When asked in an interview with 2GF presenter Richie Williamson in May, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the hospital upgrade was a commitment her government would honour.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Justin Lloyd
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Picture: Justin Lloyd

"We promised to keep all our election commitments," Mrs Berejiklian said.

"If we've said we're upgrading and building Grafton Base Hospital that's definitely what we'll be doing."

After the budget was deferred from June to a likely date in November due to COVID-19, community pressure has since ramped up, spearheaded by prominent Grafton figure Ron Bell, who was involved in decades of campaigning for the second Grafton bridge which was finally opened in December last year.

Mr Bell initially went public on June 12 as a spokesperson for the Grafton Chamber of Commerce Grafton Base Hospital Sub-Committee to highlight the necessity for at least $20 million to be allocated "immediately" for detailed planning of the project.

"The State Government is simply not providing the necessary infrastructure to keep up with what will be an increased demand on the services provided at our local hospital," Mr Bell said.

 

Chris Gulaptis, Ron Bell and Des Harvey celebrate at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19.
Chris Gulaptis, Ron Bell and Des Harvey celebrate at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19. TIM JARRETT

However, three days later Grafton Chamber of Commerce president Carol Pachos distanced the chamber from the media release which, she told The Daily Examiner, had not received authorisation from the executive committee.

Ms Pachos said the chamber had "been assured by the Premier that all election commitments will be honoured" and that the Minister for Health Brad Hazzard had "reaffirmed there is a commitment for works to commence during this term of government".

"When we received this reply, I asked for a hold to be placed on the press release as the Chamber was more than happy with this reply," Ms Pachos said.

 

The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.
The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.

 

Hospital campaign elevated to next level

Mr Bell and others felt the issue continued to warrant public attention, and on July 21 a five-metre wide banner authorised by the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee which featured caricatures of Ms Berejiklian and Mr Gulaptis was unveiled in Prince St, brandishing the words "Where is the $265m promised for Grafton Base Hospital by the NSW Government, 5th March, 2019".

 

The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.
The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.

"The banner is there to remind them and the community of the government's promise that construction will commence in the current parliamentary term," Mr Bell said.

"Detailed planning needs to be done before construction can commence. To date, the NSW Government has not approved the necessary funding for this first step to proceed."

Chamber reveals the good news

This week the chamber finally released its good news of follow up promises from Ms Berejiklian, Mr Hazzard and Mr Gulaptis in a statement.

"The Grafton Chamber of Commerce has a proven history of successful advocacy for their local community," it said.

"A focus for the chamber this year has been the much-needed redevelopment of the Grafton Base Hospital.

"A meeting earlier this year with local state member Chris Gulaptis was followed up with a letter to the minister for Health and the premier.

"As a result of that advocacy the chamber has received letters not only from Chris Gulaptis but also the Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard, and a letter from the NSW Premier herself, Gladys Berejiklian.

"With good news for our community, these letters advise of a commitment to keep this election promise."