By Dave Andrews
ROSEBERY — After many years of campaigning by residents, the new Rosebery Community Hospital was officially opened on March 1. The hospital replaces the dilapidated structure that had served the mining communities on Tasmania's west coast for 30 years.
The campaign for the new hospital started in the late 1980s, when health budget cuts hit rural and regional Tasmania hard. A community and union alliance created the Rosebery Hospital Action Committee (RHAC). At its inaugural public meeting in 1988, which attracted 500 people (Rosebery has a population of 1700) the demand for a new eight-bed, three-cot hospital was raised.
When the Labor-Green government announced the closure of the old hospital, RHAC responded that it would leave three mines, a huge Hydro Electric Commission development, 2000 residents and a burgeoning tourist industry without adequate medical protection.
Ian Jamieson, RHAC chairperson, explained to Green Left Weekly that the area was isolated and in winter often cut off from larger communities. "We had to involve everyone in the community. They responded magnificently; literally hundreds were involved, writing letters, attending meetings, organising petitions, doorknocking etc.
"The demand for a new hospital was raised at a rally in Hobart, where 2000 west coasters travelled for hours to protest government cutbacks. At other times miners threatened an industrial campaign, and we even had 200 miners and residents bailing up the Department of Health secretary in the old hospital. He thought he was going to be lynched!"
Prior to the 1992 elections, RHAC secured a commitment from the Liberal Party to build a new hospital. However, on election, the Groom government did not guarantee to honour the promise.
"Incredibly, the minister for health and community services, Roger Groom, admitted that at one stage he would break the commitment", Jamieson said. "At the official opening, he lectured the community about how he was going to refuse us the hospital because of 'community abuse' of the government. We were dead right to keep the pressure on."
The active involvement of the community "made the difference" in the campaign, Jamieson noted. By involving the community, "remaining steadfast and referring all decisions back to the community" the west coast won.
Two other RHAC campaigners, local businessman Kerry Hay and former matron Kim Herin, stressed during the official opening that the campaign against health cuts would be ongoing. Hay warned health officials and politicians that the community would remain vigilant to ensure that staffing of the new hospital matches the community's expectations.