The people have spoken.
Pambula District Hospital should remain open for at least five years after the completion of the new regional hospital at Bega at current funding levels.
The question was put to voters during the council elections on the weekend in an Electoral Commission controlled poll.
A resounding 82.63 per cent of voters marked the ballot paper “yes”.
Not surprisingly the majority of support came from Eden, Pambula and Merimbula, with a higher percentage of “no” voters in Bega and Tathra.
For Russell Fitzpatrick, the Bega Valley Shire councillor who won the decision for the poll to be held, it was a gratifying result.
“I think all the staff at Pambula Hospital should have a big smile on their face this morning because they know now that they have community backing,” he said on Monday.
However, Mr Fitzpatrick said that he was a little surprised at the strength of the vote.
“It was higher than I thought it would be,” he said.
“I thought there might be a backlash in some areas, but there hasn’t been at all.
“It just shows that there are things in the shire where everyone can come to a decision and there should no efforts from any party now to try to close it down or do anything to it.
“It’s quite a clear statement that people want it kept open and want the services there even after the regional hospital is built.”
Save Our Hospital Inc. president, Sharon Tapscott, who enjoyed overwhelming success in her bid for a council seat on the hospital platform, said it was an important message.
“It shows the federal and state ministers that they can have confidence that they’re not upsetting the top half of the shire by doing something for the bottom half,” she said.
The poll received criticism from some sectors of the community, particularly from the northern areas of the shire where the need for the Pambula hospital’s services is not as apparent.
Most vocal was Liz Seckold, who in the lead up to the election said she believed it was “an exercise in futility”.
“This is not a local issue, it is a state issue,” she told the public during the meet the candidates evening held in Merimbula prior to the election.
“You do realise, you people out there, you are paying for this poll to keep the Pambula hospital open for five years at a cost of $38m.
“No government will fork out a total of $38m.”
Her views seemed to do little to deter people from voting to have services at the hospital retained, but whether or not it will influence the bureaucracy remains to be seen.
A 22,000 signature petition seemed to have little effect, however, Mr Fitzpatrick said this poll has more significance.
“I think it’s different and can have more impact because it was run by the electoral commission – not something that can be rorted or signed,” he said.
“A petition can be signed by anyone and everyone.
“The poll is the actual people who live in the region and the voting public in the region.
“It relates directly to the community we live in and is voted on by the community who live here and use those services every day of the week. Obviously they want the hospital to be retained.
“I think any electorate representative at state or federal level would be mistaken not to take advice from it.”