WRAP - No prison in Westbury

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Why I don't support the prison at Westbury

Meander Valley Gazette - 19 May 2020

Everyone who was born and raised in Tasmania, like me, and most who have lived here for any significant amount of time, know and love how close knit our communities are.

It's one of the reasons that most people who are born and raised here do not wish to leave the State, and those who do so often return.

Our close knit communities are our abiding strength. But sometimes, they can also be a weakness.

It's a weakness when someone gets a job because of who they are or who they know, instead of what they know.

It's a weakness when someone gets away with feathering their own nest because those around them are worried that whistleblowing will have terrible ramifications for them personally, across the entire State.

It's a weakness when we feel pressure to toe the line or have financial or other support withdrawn from us.

And it's a weakness when decisions that affect all of us are made behind closed doors by a small group of 'future makers' who support each other's agenda.

Lots of debate has surrounded the decision to build a large high security correctional centre in the North of the State, and the merits of that course. The letter to the editor from Greg Hall (April edition) is one such opinion.

Opinions amongst WRAP's members on the merits of the Northern Regional Prison differ widely.

Some do not think a second prison in the State should be prioritised. They believe that lowering the incarceration rate in the first place and improving rehabilitation back into the community are the solutions.

Others think a regional prison in the North is a good idea but that the Westbury site is the wrong place for it.

Others are appalled at the secretive process used to select the site and the shambolic aftermath that followed its announcement. They think that the selection of Westbury was predetermined behind closed doors, and the Government's Expression of Interest process was a clumsy sleight of hand. They view the distressing 'consultation' process which has followed the announcement as a cynical exercise designed to pull the wool over the public's eyes.

Westbury's fate could have been seen in a crystal ball at least as far back as May 2018, when the then General Manager Martin Gill met with representatives of the Department of Justice. At that meeting, the Westbury site was undoubtedly targeted. As a matter we are being asked to regard as coincidence, the owner of the site owes the Council a debt of approximately $680,000.

A poorly marketed 'procurement process' (labelled an 'expression of Interest' process) was then conducted by the Government. Its advertising was limited, it was shrouded in mystery and it yielded a miserable 5 prospective non-Government sites, 2 of which were at Westbury.

Martin Gill had helped identify the Westbury site for the Government. He now applied himself to assisting the landowner with its application. On 19th November 2018 he sent a 'joint application from the Meander Valley Council and [the landowner]'. Council has refused to produce a copy of this application despite our request, even though the application was prepared with ratepayers' money.

Since the announcement on 30 September 2019, the merits of locating the prison at Westbury have been repeatedly spruiked by the State Government. The proposal appears to have some supporters on the current Council and in former members of Council.

Two former Meander Valley Council mayors (Craig Perkins and Greg Hall) have weighed in by giving their strong public support to the prison at Westbury. Another former mayor, now MP, Mark Shelton has conveyed that he supports the prison. The current Mayor Wayne Johnston appeared at the media release of the Attorney-General's announcement of the site.

Yet their apparent enthusiasm for the site does not flow from any widespread consultation with their community.

At no stage since this idea was first touted in early 2018 has the Council held a community meeting to ask its ratepayers whether they support a correctional facility of this size and type in the municipality.

The current Council has ignored requests for such a meeting to be held despite being asked to do so shortly after the announcement was first made.

The survey designed to canvass wider opinion has been plagued by problems. Even Greg Hall has labelled this survey as a failure and has called for a rerun. We strongly oppose this as it would be throwing good money after bad. Council's position on the survey has not yet been made known.

Westbury has been stitched up and we continue to be treated like mushrooms. But it could have been any town in the Meander Valley and it could have been you, in the dark.

Contrary to what Greg Hall and others say, WRAP is not a bunch of 'naysayers' to development. We have simply stood up for our community because we know it's been dealt a dud hand. It's not a negative thing to stand up for your community.

We have not said no to a prison. We have simply said no to the prison being located so close to Westbury. We believe the entire municipality should be asked by its Council whether it wants the prison, and if so help choose a site. It's not negative to ask for the community to be involved in this a decision which will affect our municipality for generations to come.

Linda Poulton, President, WRAP Inc, Westbury

High costs, poor services

The Mercury - 15 November 2019

From late 2001 to its opening in August 2006 I was responsible for planning the new Risdon maximum and medium security prison. In that time I was deputy secretary then secretary of the Department of Justice. We discussed the option of a Northern prison, for three reasons: fairer access of inmates to family and friends, a capacity to separate inmates who were a danger to other inmates and staff and the replacement of the disgraceful Launceston Remand Centre. The funds were not available to seriously consider such a construction. The Risdon redevelopment was not fully funded and has never been completed to this day.

There were other reasons those involved were unenthusiastic about a northern prison. First was cost of operation. The cost of running two prisons is greater than running one even for the same number of prisoners. Costs for staff and management would be far higher and this would likely drain resources from prisoner rehabilitation and health services. We were concerned about the ability of the service base in the North to support correctional, educational and, particularly, health services.

Inmates are poorly served in mental health and substance abuse services and the northern region has even less capacity than the South. Without large increases in funding, inmates would be significantly disadvantaged. Even by conservative judgments at least half of the prison population should be receiving mental health interventions. Finally, all our planning was predicated on a prison in Launceston. To believe a service infrastructure can be maintained to properly support a maximum and medium inmate prison in a rural setting 30km out of Launceston is optimism verging on insanity. Surely Ashley has taught us something.

Peter Hoult, Rose Bay

Menzies' philosophy put aside

The Mercury - 11 November 2019

I have always voted Liberal as the philosophy and vision of Menzies fits well with me. The freedom of the individual at the centre of economic and social life. That change not be forced on the people by the government. Wow, the Tasmanian Liberals have pooped all over poor Menzies in the way they have gone about Westbury prison. In nearly every respect the site is unsuitable. It is in full view of tourists travelling into Tasmania from the North with the main road overlooking the prison for a couple of kilometres. It is close to town, nearly as big as Westbury and visible from much of the town. Westbury has significant Tasmanian and Australian history. It has country people, families, horse lovers. farmers, hobby farmers and mainlanders.

What we have in common is that we were quite happy before the prison hand grenade was thrown our way. A few days before, something exciting happened, the IGA opened and everyone was chatting about it as a great positive. Almost before the paint was dry, a bunch of bureaucrats and politicians sneaked into town and announced a prison. In one fell swoop, forcing normal private people into a fight they fever sought, families into taking sides, older residents losing sleep, parents concerned about children, all of us into the known. The party I have always respected for integrity has shown me a side Menzies would not for a minute condone.

Simon Manche, Westbury