DEPUTY premier John Barilaro said it was the voice of the community that had kept the redevelopment of Grafton Base Hospital at the forefront of the government.

And for two voices, it seemed at yesterday’s hospital funding announcement that the local community’s voice was still to be heard.

Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee members Ron Bell and Des Harvey shouted down regional media, who had taken the opportunity to quiz the deputy premier on other issues throughout the state for himself and the government.

Deputy premier John Barilaro responds to questioning from Ron Bell and Des Harvey (pictured) at announcement of funding for the Grafton Hospital redevelopment.
Deputy premier John Barilaro responds to questioning from Ron Bell and Des Harvey (pictured) at announcement of funding for the Grafton Hospital redevelopment.

“Can we get the local questions in here please?” they interjected at the press conference.

The committee had already been visible over the issue for the past couple of months, pressuring local member Chris Gulaptis with a concerted campaign of press releases, stickers, and even a giant sign hung high above Prince Street, urging the member to get a firm commitment from the government.

>>> RELATED: Where’s the money? Gulaptis still confident of hospital budget

And moments after Mr Barilaro gave the commitment of $20m worth of planning money for hospitals, including the promised quarter-billion redevelopment of Grafton in the upcoming state budget, they kept the questions and pressure coming, culminating in Mr Barilaro repeating their election commitment.

“Absolutely... the construction will begin in this term of government,” he said.

“It’s already started,” Mr Gulaptis joked, pointing to the hospital’s facade that was covered in scaffolding.

Mr Harvey finished his line of questioning by thanking the pair for honouring the commitment that had been made.

It was a sentiment echoed by another group who showed their interest by way of numbers, rather than questions.

Members of the Grafton United Hospital Auxiliary with president Merrelle Trill at the announcement of funding for the hospital redevelopment.
Members of the Grafton United Hospital Auxiliary with president Merrelle Trill at the announcement of funding for the hospital redevelopment.

About 20 members of the hospital’s auxiliary turned up to hear the news of their hospital being upgrade, and president Merrelle Trill said the group was enthused at the recent movement with the hospital, and hoped to see it finished in the near future.

“It’s taken them a long time with the hospital to see it going with improvements, but I’m thinking now it might get going,” she said.

“They seem more willing to put their money where their mouth is.

And to see this new (ambulatory care) building, which we got to see before it opened, and it’s so nice compared to the old one, we’re really pleased.”

Mr Barilaro paid tribute to Mr Gulaptis for his pursuit of funds for the redevelopment of the hospital

Deputy premier John Barilaro responds to questioning from Ron Bell and Des Harvey (pictured) at announcement of funding for the Grafton Hospital redevelopment.
Deputy premier John Barilaro responds to questioning from Ron Bell and Des Harvey (pictured) at announcement of funding for the Grafton Hospital redevelopment.

“Chris has not let this go,” he said. “A lot of time in an election there are election commitments, and we could hid behind COVID and say because the budget is in the red... and we’re running deficits and we’re going to have to borrow money to boost jobs.

“But what a great way to boost jobs to build a brand new hospital.”

Mr Barilaro could not be drawn on a definitive timeline for the finish date of the hospital, saying that the planning process would reveal the timeline and even possible location.

With the now empty Grafton jail site across the road, Mr Barilaro didn’t rule in or out the possibility of using the site as part of the redevelopment.

“It could be an option... Chris has got some ideas as well so I’ll leave it up to the community,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to utilise all government assets the best we can, whether it’s health services or education services, driving tourism and working with the community

“At the heart of all these decision we must have the community and that’s why this planning stage is so important.”