The arts appear to have become a battleground in the Bega Valley in the lead up to the state election.
So far this year the Liberals and Labor have both been in the area promising money – campaign promises on the latter’s part – for the Bega Valley Regional Gallery and the Old Bega Hospital.
In January, Labor candidate for Bega Leanne Atkinson said if she was elected under a Labor government she would provide $3.4million for the gallery’s redevelopment plans as well as $500,000 to rebuild the roof on the old hospital, while last week Member for Bega Andrew Constance announced $3million would be provided for the old hospital’s restoration.
While the old hospital’s supporters are celebrating the news of the investment, a question to ask is why has it taken so long to have money confirmed for this institution?
It was gutted by fire in 2004 and passionate campaigners have been calling for funding to be allocated ever since, sometimes without getting any response. From September 2017 to January this year, supporters received no correspondence from the NSW government as to whether or not a conditional offer of $500,000 to restore the roof was still available.
The $3million announcement was certainly timely as we are about six weeks out from an election, but also far eclipses Ms Atkinson’s earlier promise of half a million dollars. While her promise for the old hospital would no doubt have been welcomed had it been the only funding available, it would only have been enough to put a roof on the building and would not have turned it into a functional space for the community.
It is interesting to note the institutions the parties have sided with – the Liberals have put money behind the old hospital while Labor has chosen to use the majority of funds to support the gallery. What vision do they have for each?
One explanation could be how Mr Constance has said he would like to have a discussion around the idea of moving the BVRG to the old hospital’s site.
While arts are incredibly important for the Bega Valley – boosting the economy, drawing in tourists and bringing culture and events into our lives – the two parties have been making multi-million dollar promises in this area when there are many other, some would say more important, issues affecting the region, such as farmers suffering the effects of drought and staffing concerns at the South East Regional Hospital.