A private consortium is not giving up on a bold plan to build a second prison in Goulburn, that would house more than 5000 inmates.
Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd has revealed it lodged an unsolicited bid to the State Government in August for the $2.5 billion investment. The company says it could generate up to 2000 permanent jobs for Goulburn and district.
But managing director Paul Watson said the government, while not fully discounting the idea, had advised him two weeks ago that it preferred a facility within two hours of Sydney’s central courts. This was to facilitate more secure transport of prisoners.
“We’re saying to the government, why keep telling people that you want regional development and then when someone puts up a viable project, say it must be less than two hours from Sydney?” Mr Watson said.
“If the State Government thinks two hours is too far away, it has not heard of the technology boom.”
The group maintains that video-link and other electronic means can overcome this gap, as it does now.
He met with Member for Goulburn Pru Goward on Monday in an attempt to sway her and following this meeting, Mr Watson said Ms Goward told him it was “an important opportunity” for Goulburn and the State Government.
“Ms Goward told me she was very supportive of any project that brings investment, people, jobs and opportunities to the region,” he said.
“She told me she would be facilitating further discussions with the Premier and Deputy Premier about the project.
“She wants to see this project back on the table. She said a substantial new prison is a strategic resource for NSW Corrections in Southern NSW.”
Mr Watson said the consortium proposing to build the new jail combines 13 partners, including security outfit Serco which would run the facility, and a host of “tier one” companies.
The new prison plan
The proposal involves construction of a purpose-built correctional facility servicing southern NSW and Sydney’s southern metropolitan area.
- It comprises five ‘prisons’ within one, including:
- 1350 maximum security beds, also incorporating a ‘Super Max;’
- 1250 medium and minimum security beds for remand and reception;
- 1100 medium and minimum security beds for education;
- 1300 minimum security beds for reintegration, 300 of these for a women’s facility;
- 600 minimum and medium security medical beds for hospital and dementia care.
It would be built in stages over four years. The first stage could be built before the 2019 election.
The jail would be delivered via a public private partnership. The consortium proposes to design, construct, finance, maintain and operate the facility. It would in essence charge the State rent for its use. At the end of 30 years, land and building asset title deeds would be transferred to the government to decide future operation of the site.
Mr Watson said he was able to raise the money onshore through banks and offshore through super and capital funds.
He said the complex was aimed at addressing recidivism, something which many believed the State wasn’t doing, and providing appropriate facilities, like the women’s prison and dementia area.
“We have told the government that Goulburn has the infrastructure to retrain and reskill prisoners and give them a pathway to employment and re-integration into the community so they are contributors, not a burden,” he said.
“The reason we want something of this size is to give Corrective Services the space to fix the problem so they are not just building more jails.”
They plan to partner with TAFE, universities and other providers to help address re-offending and provide health services. Community Plus would also be engaged to support a community consultative group and other consultants involved in the project.
The land involved
The project is slated for 263 hectares on Goulburn’s southeastern outskirts. Current owners, Funtime Investments, run by Neville Burrows and daughter Judy Micallef, had wanted to rezone the land off Mountain Ash Road for up to 134 rural-residential lots.
Before that, the property was earmarked for the Southern Distribution Hub, which was subsequently abandoned. Mr Watson, who has 25 years’ experience in project management and construction in Australia and overseas, worked with project manager and local man Bob Stephens on the Hub. Some of the jail bid’s partners also worked on the Hub plan.
Mr Watson said he’d secured an option to buy the land from Funtime Investments if the government endorsed the new ‘Argyle Correctional Complex.’
But he says getting past first base is proving a hurdle and he argues Goulburn is the ideal choice because it is already “a prison town.”
“It’s an absolute gem of an opportunity because it has the infrastructure, like the Police Academy, Corrective Services, the courthouse and other social and community services here to support it,” Mr Watson said.
The land too was rich in necessary servicing infrastructure, including its location near the Hume Highway and approval in place for an interchange.
In addition, he argued the government had not succeeded in locating another prison in outer Sydney. Council and community opposition, coupled with political pressure, had quashed a Picton proposal.
He said Goulburn Mulwaree Council has also given the bid in principle support.
“Goulburn Mulwaree Council has given us tacit support because it believed it would be a major economic boost for the region,” Mr Watson said.
He presented the idea to a closed session of the council on June 27 to gain support for the unsolicited bid. Councillors voted to support it in principle, “without fettering its discretion, powers, functions or obligations,” and voted to make no public comment at that time.
Mr Watson said the economic benefits for Goulburn would be immense. They would flow from the 2000 jobs created and need for supporting services and infrastructure such as houses and schools to accommodate families moving to the area. He believes Goulburn Mulwaree can handle the growth.
The council thinks so too.
General manager Warwick Bennett last week spoke to Regional Infrastructure Coordinator Ken Gillespie about Corrective Services’ long-term plans for Goulburn Jail, given the prison bed shortfall.
He and Mayor Bob Kirk also plan to meet with Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin early in the new year to discuss the same issue.
“The council believes there are great employment and career opportunities for our residents to grow Corrective Services facilities in Goulburn in any capacity,” he said.
“(But) I believe the council would be more supportive of a government-led proposal than a private one.”
Nevertheless, it is urging Corrective Services to review its “two-hour” rule and to make better us of technology.