Standing up to a 'lunatic' closure

Issue 

On April 27, around 300 residents gathered at Rozelle's Callan Park in the second Sunday protest against the NSW ALP government's bid to close the psychiatric hospital and redevelop the parklands.

People affected by mental illness were well represented, with one prominent sign reading, "Save Rozelle Hospital as it Saved Me".

Friends of Callan Park (FOCP) has been campaigning since 1998 to maintain the psychiatric hospital at Rozelle. They also want the parklands to remain publicly accessible, and the historic buildings preserved and given an appropriate use.

Speakers highlighted that the hospital is located in a green oasis, an ideal therapeutic place to recover from mental illness. "The decision by the Iemma government to close this hospital shows that the lunatics have taken over the asylum", said Sue Steedman, coordinator of the homeless support group Our Place.

Health professionals, community members, local councillors and politicians also pointed out the cutbacks to mental health facilities despite the increase in numbers of people suffering from mental illness. Some described how these cut-backs were linked to an increase in homelessness and incarceration and, in some cases, even death.

FOCP president Hall Greenland said the government is attempting to justify the closure by opening a newly-built facility at Concord Hospital. However, this will have just 174 beds, compared to the current 200 at Rozelle. Some Callan Park patients have been relocated as the government had set down April 30 as the date the hospital would be closed.

The campaign to save Rozelle Hospital and Callan Park has a long and successful history. Community campaigning led to the Callan Park (Special Provisions) Act 2002, which prevented the 61-hectare site from being auctioned off to developers.

The NSW minister for planning, Frank Sartor, in conjunction with the University of Sydney, is now pushing for a campus with six storey-high buildings to be built at Callan Park. The university estimates the site would cater for 5000 students, 700 of whom would live on site, and another 400 staff. But FOCP estimates that, based on current University of Sydney student numbers, there are more likely to be around 10,000 students.

While the development proposal purports to be within the act's guidelines — that Callan Park only be used for passive recreation, a public health care service, a public education facility, or a community facility — the Greens' Sylvia Hale believes this is wrong.

"Sydney University's proposal does not comply with the Callan Park act", said Hale. "The act requires any new building to stay within the footprint and building envelope of existing buildings, regardless of the purpose for which those buildings are to be used. "The only way the proposal can proceed is if the act is changed — and that is something the Greens, with the strong support of the community, will oppose", she said.

Greenland also believes Sartor's consultation process was flawed. "The consultants were told that only one option was to be considered — the university takeover. Any other alternatives from the public were not to be entertained." Polling by Leichhardt Council indicates that only 6% support Sartor's plan and FOCP is using this to push for a new public consultation.

"While the mental health crisis persists, and while the buildings and land remain at Callan Park, we will continue to campaign for the return of this hospital", concluded Greenland.

[FOCP is organising a picket of Verity Firth's office, 112 Glebe Point Road, Friday May 16, 10.20am. FOCP meets monthly. To get involved call Jean Lennane on 9810 2511 or visit <www.callanpark.com>.]