Lack of risk assessment for proposed jail questioned

An artistic impression of Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd's plans for a second prison in Goulburn.

An artistic impression of Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd's plans for a second prison in Goulburn.

The lack of a “risk assessment” in a proposal for a second jail has raised concerns at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting. 

Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd managing director Paul Watson said risks associated with the proposed Argyle Correctional Facility would be “part of the process” if the bid is approved.

Mr Watson, who presented plans on Wednesday morning, was rallying engagement from the business community.

It came despite the State Government in December ruling out another prison for Goulburn. 

While some were supportive, the director was met with questions surrounding the lack of a risk assessment, absent from the 29-page proposal submitted. 

“A lot of the risks were discussed in the presentation to the council,” he said, citing a meeting with Goulburn Mulwaree councillors who gave Mr Watson in principal support during a closed council session mid last year.

“While the risk wasn't addressed [in the proposal], that’s part of the process, the risk will be addressed. The only issues raised are the risks raised by the public, and that will be addressed via the process.” 

Publicly announced in November last year, the project boasted a facility on Mountain Ash Road that could house 5600 prisoners, but was rejected by the state government in December due to the size of the facility and distance from Sydney courts. 

Since then, Mr Watson has reduced the total amount of beds to 1800 over three stages. 

Goulburn Mulwaree Mayor Bob Kirk, who only learnt of the amended proposal during the chamber meeting, said the council’s position had not changed.

“We’re happy to see him continue. It would be a good economic opportunity. Coincidentally, we know there is bench marking at the jail which may impact the current workforce,” he said.

“Here we have two unrelated but indirectly related events.” 

In late November, Mr Watson told The Post the project would be delivered via a public-private partnership (PPP). 

As part of the original submission, the project was to be built via the build-operate-transfer model (BOT).

Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd managing director Paul Watson in Goulburn.

Southern Infrastructure Pty Ltd managing director Paul Watson in Goulburn.

Now, a month away from the final re-submission to government, Mr Watson said he “does not know” if this arrangement will remain. 

“Now that people are discussing the size of the project, we haven’t finalised all of that,” he said. 

“We have talked to real estate agents, talked to people in the street and people in other projects. There’s no use putting it down there if no one wants it, but what we’re trying to create is a significant number of part-time and full-time jobs.

“The feedback is substantially more positive than negative.” 

Mr Watson declined to comment on a statement released by Corrections Minister David Elliot’s office in December, which announced there was “no operational requirement” for a second prison.

“The information we’re working on is the demand requirements for prison beds. The reason we’re continuing this is because we believe this project will be an ongoing benefit for the community. All we’re doing is putting up a proposal. If the community don’t want it, that’s fine,” he said. 

Over the past 18-months Mr Watson has spent about $500,000 on this project. 

Mr Watson claims MP Pru Goward has given “significant support” for the project and is organising meetings for Mr Watson. 

“We wouldn't have submitted the application if we weren’t sure of it. Part of the process is getting understanding from the councillors. They’re the elected representative of the public, their views are representative of the public,” he said. 

Goulburn Chamber of Commerce president Mark Bradbury said the chamber does not have a view on the proposal just yet. He told The Post Mr Watson was invited to speak following reports of a possible second jail. 

The Post article was for some Chamber members the first they had heard about the proposal. The fact that the proposed 5000 bed facility was going to create an expected 2000 jobs and provide opportunities for businesses in the district was of particular interest to members and warranted members being afforded the opportunity to hear from a representative of the consortium,” Mr Bradbury said. 

“It was apparent from the comments from the floor after the presentation that there are some who are convinced that it would be a welcome addition to Goulburn. Others present seemingly have reservations.”

The proposal is set to be reviewed by chamber members. One member suggested a chamber delegation could view a modern, existing correctional facility. 

“Another avenue for possible exploration by the chamber would be to engage with the Grafton Chamber of Commerce, Grafton being the site of the new facility construction,” he said. 

Mr Watson will continue to consult with the Goulburn public in the lead up to March. If the unsolicited bid is rejected, Mr Watson said he will not submit another amended proposal. 

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