Sunday, 18 November 2012

What the Clarence Valley is telling the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Closure or Downsizing of Corrective Services NSW Facilities

I welcome the opportunity to condemn the New South Wales Coalition Government’s decision to downsize Grafton Gaol to a remand centre on Grafton Cup Day (July 12, 2012), axing 90 Corrective Services, Justice Health and TAFE jobs worth an estimated $10 million a year to the local economy….
The Liberal Premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell, his National Party Deputy Andrew Stoner and newly-elected Nationals State Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis got everything wrong.
It was an absolute debacle -- the ideological rush to cut costs, I knew to be incorrect and was later confirmed by the revealing of the $1-billion budgetary mistake, the immediacy of it, refusing to consult with locals directly, and no plans put in place for the workers, their families, and the City of Grafton…..
I met on site at the picket, with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, who were there protesting the jobs going and deeply worried for inmates, up to 70 per cent of them indigenous, being moved to Kempsey, Cessnock or other faraway gaols.
Despite what we know from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which recommended that inmates have regular contact with family members, there were no transition plans in place….
There are many cruel impacts caused by this callous treatment; TAFE teachers who were offered a redundancy but then told they cannot go into teaching elsewhere for 12 months under some State Government rules.
These rules could have been relaxed for them….
In the wash-up, my understanding is that 90 local jobs were lost and only five Corrective Services staff ended up transferring to Cessnock Gaol, where a new wing reportedly has remained vacant due to a lack of staff.
How will the closure or downsizing of Grafton Gaol affect local business and the
local economy of Grafton?
If we need to explain to the people we are submitting this to, we are all wasting our time.
The terms of reference to the Committee highlight many of the questions Clarence Valley Council has also been asking. How could one of the largest, highest paying employers be taken away from our community without a full economic, social and
financial analysis, a Rural Impact Statement and without consultation?
Obviously the community as a whole agrees, given the extent of community outrage, and the week long blockade of the jail which is well documented in the media.
The loss of over 100 jobs has a huge impact in a regional area of high socio-economic disadvantage (the Clarence Valley ranks on the Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage index near the bottom at 934 out of 2,000, compared to Sydney which
has indexes well over 1 ,000) and an average wage income only two thirds of the state average input/output modelling conducted by Council shows for every 1 person employed directly by Corrective Services in Grafton, another job was created
indirectly. Therefore the loss of 100 employees has a result of losing 200 jobs from the Clarence Valley economy….
In summary, the downsizing of the Grafton Correctional Centre had no consultation, no account of socio-economic impacts to an already disadvantaged community, no sympathy to impacts on corrective centre staff who in general will be forced to leave
Grafton for employment, and definitely no account of the important role this centre had for families of prisoners, who obviously have little or no financial ability to move with their loved ones.
It could be, and has been argued, by this State Government, that Grafton Gaol has not ‘closed’ and therefore there have been no broken promises. However the reality is that Grafton Gaol no longer exists. It has been effectively closed. What has taken its place is a transient centre that houses approximately 80% less offenders, offering little more than a reception and processing function.
There are no visits, no buy-ups, no education, drug and alcohol counselling, psychology and mental health services, no industries where offenders can learn valuable work skills. The entire minimum security area has been ‘mothballed’ and locked down. The oldest wing has been emptied. All industry areas and education areas, classrooms and group rooms are abandoned. The administration block has also been closed.
Grafton Gaol is a shell of what it was. Emptied buildings, abandoned office equipment, idled resources, silent corridors and overgrown gardens. Only memories now fill the many voids.
When Premier Barry O’Farrell visited Grafton on Jacaranda Thursday (November 3, 2011) in support of candidate Chris Gulaptis, he dismissed as ‘lies’ the PSA’s claims that Grafton Gaol had been slated to close by the Government.
“I can also give you an iron-clad guarantee that Grafton Gaol is not closing,” the Premier told The Daily Examiner.
Regardless of this assurance, when the axe came down seven months later, prison officers said it was inmates, not management, who first revealed they would be losing their jobs.
So much for consultation….
Tellingly, Nationals candidate for Clarence Chris Gulaptis declined to meet with any
of these workers to listen to their concerns about job security.
I know that at the Grafton Correctional Centre that some of the Correctional Officers who lost their employment with the recent changes there, had transferred from Berrima and Parramatta Correctional Centres. These very same people had sold their homes after the closure of the Berrima and Parramatta Correctional Centres and moved their families to Grafton - only to lose their jobs at Grafton Correctional Centre a short time later. This is something that citizens in Australia in 2012 should not have to put up with. But what can most people do? Not much.
Because once the Government is moving in a certain direction, the impacts of policies such as prison closures on the lives of workers and their families appears to be of little consequence.

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