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.

DEMAND ACTION: How to make pollies take notice

A FORMER MP has lent his learnings through years of experience on how to be effective in getting politicians to act on community demands.

Steve Cansdell served in NSW Government as the Member for Clarence from 2003 to 2011.

Prior to entering politics Mr Cansdell ran a signwriting business, Cansdell Signs, now owned by his former apprentice Kye Masters. The 69-year-old still occasionally dabbles into his former profession and was the artist behind the large banner hung in Prince St depicting caricatures of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and current Clarence MP, Chris Gulaptis.

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 five-metre wide sign on the balcony of the former Weileys Hotel is a public reminder to the NSW Government of the promise it made at the 2019 state election to start the $263.8 million Grafton Base Hospital upgrade during this parliamentary term.

"The government needs to commit $30 to 40 million to the planning," Mr Cansdell said.

"If they commit to the planning everyone will be happy, because they'll know it's going ahead.

"If they don't commit that, it's pie in the sky and just another election promise."

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Steve Cansdell.
Steve Cansdell.

Mr Cansdell said he created the banner as a favour for the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee members because he agreed with the sentiments of the message.

"Congratulations to the committee for pushing this for the community," he said.

"I met with the committee and with my experience in politics we talked about ways and means to highlight the issues.

"I suggested being a bit controversial.

"The wording 'where's the money' was the committee's idea. I just added the others and did the caricatures of Gladys and Gulaptis. It took me a day to do it, all brushwork no computer, old school."

SOFTLY, SOFTLY v MAKING NOISE

Two distinct schools of thought have been at play among those trying to apply pressure to ensure the Grafton Base Hospital election promise is realised.

The banner represents the 'noisy' approach of garnering as much publicity as possible and subsequent public accountability among the wider population of voters.

Meanwhile another softly, softly approach has been taking place behind the scenes, away from public view, in the form of email trails between community stakeholders politely reminding the relevant politicians of their obligations.

For example the Grafton Chamber of Commerce executive went so far as to distance themselves from a statement released by Ron Bell on June 12 representing the Grafton Chamber of Commerce Grafton Base Hospital Sub-Committee, which highlighted the importance of the upgrade and sought actions over words.

The chamber claimed it had already received affirmative responses from Ms Berejiklian and Minister for Health Brad Hazzard prior to publication, and president Carol Pachos said the executive had not authorised the release. Rather than make some additional noise, she indicated the chamber would have preferred to respectfully save the blushes of those politicians.

"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.

Mr Bell continued the 'noisy' fight, unveiling the banner a month later as a representative of the Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee instead.

 

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

 

It's fine to pursue the righteous and proper path of pursuing a favourable outcome via formal letters and gratuities. But it offers little threat of consequences should they fail to deliver.

It's wise to remember that at any given time every single community in the state is putting their hand out for something. Sometimes you need to make sure they know you're serious.

"You can make all the nice emails and phone calls you want, but sometimes you need to push a little bit," Mr Cansdell iterated.

"It's one thing to go and meet with them, which is good. And there's in your face stuff like this (banner).

"I suppose it is objective and critical, but it's up nice and loud for everyone to see.

"That's what it's got to be. As a politician you take notice. The squeaky wheel gets results.

"Big business and politics don't like public criticism.

"It was a good move by the committee and I was quite happy to help them."

 

Qualitative value of a front page splash

As the editor of a media publication that has recently forgone its print edition for a digital-only model, I lament the loss of our greatest asset - the front page.

Regardless of circulation figures or advertising revenue, the front page of a regional publication has always - and still did - hold significant sway as an influential tool for getting things done.

Never mind the fact that - for better or worse - the metropolitan mastheads of the company who decided to switch off our presses almost certainly dictated the result of the last Federal election primarily through its front page resources. Throughout my journalistic career spent entirely in the regions I have consisently witnessed firsthand the impact a front page has in prompting action at all levels of government.

"It's a shame The Daily Examiner's print is gone, because this would be a front page story," Mr Cansdell said.

The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St adjacent to the Clocktower roundabout demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.
The Grafton Base Hospital Community Committee has erected a large banner in Prince St adjacent to the Clocktower roundabout demanding action on Grafton Base Hospital upgrade.

 

"Because I know that the local politician cuts out the story and sends it direct to the minister and they run around putting out fires.

"The emails are all nice. But it just goes to the bottom of he pile. The premier won't even see it."

Issues can lie dormant for a long period of time, and suddenly when a call to action contained in one article - which in some cases may have only emerged simply because a reporter finally felt compelled to write it after it sat on their to-do list for too long - lands on the front page, some politician or local council acts immediately to alleviate the problem - sometimes just an easy fix that was sitting at the bottom of that pile.

Of course, our local journalism is still here to stay, and already we have proven that digital-only can still achieve meaningful results, but there's nothing quite like the magic of 150-font on page one to get the message heard loud and clear.