A consortium bidding to build a private prison on Goulburn’s outskirts is amending its plan in an effort to convince the State Government of its merits.
As reported in last Wednesday’s Goulburn Post, Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd has lodged an unsolicited bid to the government for a 5000-bed jail off Mountain Ash Road, near the Hume Highway’s Windellama Road overbridge.
But the Department of Premier and Cabinet is only lukewarm on the idea, according to company director Paul Watson. He said the government had advised him it didn’t want another jail located two hours from Sydney due the difficulty of safely transporting prisoners to Sydney courts.
The company argues modern technology can easily overcome this hurdle. Mr Watson last week met with Goulburn MP Pru Goward to enlist her support for a meeting with the Department of Corrections to better understand the reasons for rejection.
Meantime, Mr Watson said he met with consortium partners about ways to revise the plan.
“It is basically five prisons in one but we may suggest that we stage it differently...It could be that we build a particular part first, such as the women’s section or the area for inmates with dementia that are key to the future,” he said.
The company has pushed for a debrief from the Department on its concerns but also a meeting with the Premier and Deputy Premier.
But Ms Goward has some concerns.
“This was an unsolicited proposal with great employment prospects for Goulburn and I was impressed by Mr Watson’s enthusiasm when I met with him on Monday,” she said.
“A second major corrections facility in Goulburn would need serious government consideration. The Goulburn electorate has previously expressed strong reservations about privatised public facilities to me – so I think this warrants extensive consultation. With 5,000 inmates – the proposed jail would be 10 times the size of Goulburn’s existing facility
“I welcome the opportunity for employment in my electorate but a privately run prison of this magnitude is a complex decision for state government that would need to be closely evaluated. The result of our meeting on Monday was that I am happy to support Mr Watson’s request for a comprehensive debrief from the Department about the rejection of the proposal to date and have done so.”
Ms Goward said she was aware that the Corrections union was “not happy”, and more community consultation was required.
“The unsolicited bids process is supposed to be a tough one, no one wants to see taxpayers’ money spent on special deals for mates as happened under Labor,” she said.
Asked to elaborate on this, Ms Goward said under Labor, ministers benefited themselves (personally) and their families.
“That is why people like Mr Obeid and Mr McDonald are in jail. We need transparent processes to prevent this recurring and the unsolicited bids process is part of that. There is no one in NSW who does not object to the special deals ALP ministers and mates enjoyed, which is why we have reformed ICAC, disclosure laws and government procurement processes generally.”
Mr Watson said Corrective Services’ allocation of serious money to a “technology boom” flew in the face of its “two-hour” rationale.
“I believe that given the opportunity to sit down with the Premier, Deputy Premier and Department, we can achieve an outcome that’s of benefit to the government,” he said.
“...We still genuinely believe that if you draw a two-hour travel circle from Sydney, Goulburn is the most appropriate area for another jail.”
Mr Watson said it was not a case of making the prison smaller as the government had already signalled this was the preferred size through its aborted Picton proposal.
“We know the demand is there and they haven’t been able to find an answer,” he said.
Mr Watson welcomed Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s support but said if it went the way Mayor Bob Kirk and general manager Warwick Bennett wanted – for government to build the prison – then it wouldn’t happen.
However Cr Kirk said the council had not taken this position.
“We have not discussed it beyond our resolution (in July) to support it in principle for further investigation,” he said.
“...Why wouldn’t we support it because potentially there are a few thousand jobs and untold economic spin-offs. We have to give it a chance,” he said.
Cr Kirk said he and Mr Bennett would promote the opportunity whenever they could but had not embarked on a “deliberate strategy” to do so.
“There is a clear process that unsolicited bids must follow,” he told The Post.
”...(But) if there’s further discussion to be had with (Corrective Services Commissioner) Peter Severin and others then I’m certainly prepared to put forward Goulburn’s case.”
The Mayor scotched social media comments that another prison would attract bad elements to the city and increase crime rates. He said there was no evidence that the current prison had this effect and Goulburn’s crime rates were comparable with other areas.
The Goulburn Post requested comment from Corrections Minister David Elliot regarding the jail proposal. He would not give a firm stance on the bid but a spokesperson referred to an infrastructure expansion program.
”The Illawarra Reintegration Centre created an additional 60 beds when it opened in June, and was soon to be followed by the opening of the 94-bed Mary Wade Correctional Centre, and 150 minimum-security beds at Parklea Correctional Centre,” she said.
“The Macquarie and Hunter correctional centres, CSNSW’s first rapid-build prisons, will house a combined 800 inmates when they open this month and early next year respectively.”
The projects are part of the government’s $3.8 billion plan to create 7,000 prison beds.
“This is in addition to the previously announced expansion of Parklea Correctional Centre by 650 beds, and the new Grafton prison of 1,700 beds,” she said.
“Funding has also been approved for the 440-bed expansion of the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre and 248 maximum-security beds for female inmates at Dillwynia Correctional Centre.
“The new and expanded facilities will help place inmates optimally in terms of security and access to programs and activities to reduce re-offending.
“Corrective Services is also investing $237 million in reducing re-offending, targeting persistent and repeat domestic violence offenders and ensuring that inmates serving sentences of six months or less for any crime participate in rehabilitation programs.”
Mr Elliot’s office also referred the matter to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, a spokesperson for which said unsolicited proposals submitted to the NSW Government were confidential.
“If an unsolicited proposal progresses to stage two, details will be published on the NSW Government website,” the spokesperson said.