'Council should stop playing politics' - Health Minister
"It has been a wild ride".
These were the words of NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who officially turned the first sod for the new $534 million Tweed Valley Hospital earlier this afternoon.
Mr Hazzard, who flew up to the Tweed from Sydney for the sod-turning ceremony, said of all the hospital sites he had opened, this was by far his favourite.
The Tweed Valley Hospital development has been a controversial issue in the region ever since the site was selected on former State Significant Farmland at Cudgen in 2017, with some sections of the community protesting the site selection process and the loss of viable farmland.
State Labor used the issue as their main campaign for the NSW election, with former candidate Craig Elliot claiming he would have the hospital site moved to Kings Forest if he came into power, labelling the election a "referendum" on where the hospital would be built, before he was eventually defeated by Tweed MP Geoff Provest.
The issue also divided the Tweed Shire Council, with Mayor Katie Milne actively protesting the site selection choice and pushing for the existing hospital to be rebuilt.
The council later paid $34,000 for legal advice to determine whether or not the State Government had breached any rules while performing preliminary works on the site, but did not pursue further action afterwards.
In a chaotic council meeting last Thursday, Cr Milne used her Mayoral power to make that legal advice open to the public.
Today, while talking up the $534 million investment into the Tweed region, Mr Hazzard urged the councillor's to get on board with the rest of the community.
Only three councillors in Cr James Owen, Cr Warren Polglase and Cr Pryce Allsop attended the sod-turning ceremony.
"Clearly there are some political forces still operating at certain levels with the elected councillors, there are elected councillors here today who are fully supportive, my message to them is get on with us, join in the journey of getting a brand new hospital and stop playing politics," he said.
Mr Hazzard said Health Infrastructure had gone through a "detailed process of engaging with the community" before choosing the site at Cudgen, despite some questioning the site selection process.
"Over 50 sites in the end were looked at and it was very much a hands-off process from the Ministers point of view, I didn't pick the Cudgen site, what I did and what Geoff (Provest) did was rely on the experts and that's how governments should operate," he said.
"Thank you to Health Infrastructure for delivering for us and selecting a site that will be a bit of magic for the Tweed."
Tweed MP Geoff Provest said it had been "a long saga to get to this particular point".
"As everyone here knows, it became a very contentious issue in the last campaign, in fact many might say it was a referendum," he said.
"It was a rocky road, the local people stood behind us and it was pretty tough out there, in fact very tough, one of the nastiest campaigns I've ever seen, but we never lost focus on the ultimate goal of providing 21st-century medicine to the good people of the Tweed.
"All the rest is memories, good memories and not so good memories, but the real goal here was to look after our clinicians and create this facility for the people of the Tweed now and into the future."