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Corrections – Westbury Prison


Rosalie Woodruff MP

Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Westbury, Northern Prison, Corrections

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, your misguided and badly evidenced push to create a maximum security prison in Westbury is causing many local residents extreme anxiety. When you dropped the initial proposed site was close to the Westbury township in June and you made a snap announcement to move the site, there was surprise and a shock that it was being moved instead to the Westbury Reserve on Birralee Road.

The Premier alluded to the reason for his decision during a question we asked him in Estimates. He said that he'd been chatting to locals in the street and had got a feel for what people wanted. It seemed as though someone put the idea for that place into his mind.

Can you tell me the reason for moving to that site, the evidence and the basis for that decision?

Ms ARCHER - Can I go back to how you described it? You said maximum security prison. We call this the northern regional prison project. I think it's more accurately described as a correctional facility. That's more the modern language that's certainly used around Australia these days.

It takes into consideration that it is a facility that will allow for all classifications for remand and for a women's prison section as well, with all classifications. It is required for community safety and the safety of everyone that the perimeter is secured as a maximum security measure.

Misinterpreting that as an entire facility that's maximum security is incorrect and it's baseless. I understand why you use that language because it whips up fear in the community. It is a project which we want to see and the Director of Prisons is very keen on more rehabilitation and reintegration options, more education and training programs, more therapeutic programs for drug and alcohol addiction and other such programs.

We can design something that's something that's purpose-built, it's modern, it's up-to-date with our times and the programs that we wanted to deliver to our inmates because most -

Dr WOODRUFF - It does include a maximum security area though, that is true, isn't it?

Ms ARCHER - Of course it does. In response to your question, we want to provide a facility that's going to also cater for the fact that prisoners come from all parts of the state. Ultimately it is an operational matter as to who goes where, but it does give the option to address the current statistic around this - approximately half of our prisoners come from the north and north-west of the state. I just want to say that at the outset.

You need to allow for all types of classifications to respond to that type of need. It is statistically sound that people who live near their families and still maintain contact with their families have better chances of rehabilitation, and there is a better chance of reducing our recidivism rate - which is far too high, as members know.

Now, moving to what we based that decision on. We have also been very public about this. It was as a result of the SEIS - the impact study that was carried out. We had nine months of community consultation. The information provided as part of that report confirmed community views and the views of businesses, and businesses on the industrial estate - that they wanted to see the site moved. Indeed, some even said move it down the road.

We looked at options. We looked at what had not been put forward, by what sites we owned. There was the crown land site, which is now our site for the prison. We are no longer pursuing what was the preferred site, which went through the EOI process.

This was as a result of the community consultation. I said I would listen to the community. The Government and the Premier said we would listen to the community. We did and our decision was based on that report.

That report also indicated that the region would benefit economically and in terms of jobs. There are figures in that report that substantiate this - •

Increased output: $548 million due to construction and operation; •

Increased value to gross regional product; •

$260 million due to construction and operation; •

739 additional FTE jobs due to construction; and •

372 ongoing jobs supported by prison operations.

We based our decision on that report and a lot of the anecdotal things we were hearing ourselves.

I had one-on-one meetings; I had a public meeting. The Premier went up to the Westbury area as well. We have been together. I have had a lot of consultation. I still get correspondence and I respond to that correspondence. There is a lot of correspondence that goes direct to the project team. We are in the process of, I think, addressing 71 questions that had been provided in bulk as well. We continue to engage on the current site.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, I understand a report was prepared prior to the initial announcement that Westbury was the preferred site for the northern prison. A report was prepared that looked at the suitable requirements for a northern prison, including access to services, position on roads, access to gas, water and power - and all the other services and issues to consider in making that decision.

Can you confirm that the current site on Westbury Reserve did not appear in that report as a list of preferred sites, and will you release that report to the community so they can be comfortable with the decision you have made?

Ms ARCHER - I think you are referring to the Northern Prison Siting Panel and process and I can explain the EOI process and the role of the panel in relation to that.

I can answer your question about the crown land site. No, it was not put forward by DPIPWE.

Dr WOODRUFF - The DoJ did not do the site report for the prison?

Ms ARCHER - What I will take you through. I am coming back to that but I am answering the easy question. It was not put forward as part of the expression of interest process from the department at that stage. It was only after I received the SEIS as a result of the community consultation saying statistically what people's view were, and we took that into consideration and then went to see what crown land was available in the north of the state. I don't have a fixation with that particular area but it just so happens that crown land site is up the road at Birralee. In 2018, my department established a multidisciplinary, interdepartmental Siting Panel - so, it's a department panel - to oversee and manage the process of identifying a shortlist of suitable sites for the northern region prison.

The panel included representation from areas of expertise including corrections, policing, health, infrastructure, access and transport and land use planning. A non-government independent member also sat on that panel. A targeted expression of interest process calling for the nomination of potential sites for a northern region prison closed in November 2018. It was the siting panel that oversaw that targeted EOI process, including the assessment of sites submitted through the EOI, and the recommendation of the original preferred site. The EOI opened on 20 September 2018 with letters going out to all local councils in the north-north-west region; government owned utilities ; and property and economic development sector groups, so they could put the call out to all of their members as well who were property owners in the area of the north, north-west region.

Information briefing sessions were held in Launceston, Devonport and Burnie in late October. So, the role of local government was really to approach any landowners in their municipalities which had land for sale, or might be available. It was very targeted so that we could obviously have a really good selection of EOI sites. When the process closed on 22 November 2018, a total of 11 prospective sites was received. Seven were private sector and four were government, with one government site subsequently being withdrawn.

My department then undertook a desktop infrastructure planning and environment investigations to inform the Siting Panel assessment process, informed by the outcomes of the assessment. My department recommended a shortlist of sites that were identified as being suitable for the project. The original preferred site located on Birralee Road was selected out of the sites as the best that met all of the key selection criteria identified including •

Connectivity to major population centres in the north and north-west; •

Not far from either Launceston or Devonport and Burnie; •

Suitability of land for a project of this scale; and •

Location relative to service and transport routes.

Of course, I have been through all this in parliament. At the conclusion of this process the siting panel's work was completed and the panel disbanded.

My department commenced negotiations with the landowner. DPIPWE did not identify the new site, as I've said, the crown land site, as part of the EOI process. We also asked the question of the relevant department whether the Ashley Youth Detention Centre could be considered. It's not a suitable facility to be able to fit what we need on that site, and we definitely wouldn't co-locate the two either.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the choice of the Birralee site basically came down to - by your words - getting the statistical view of people in the community in response to a survey that was done. That's the reason you chose the Birralee site. What we're talking about is hundreds of millions of dollars of public -

Ms ARCHER - No, it wasn't the reason we chose the site, it was the reason we moved the site.

Dr WOODRUFF - Can I just finish my question? Yes, that's right. We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of public moneys intended to be spent by your Government, and the way you made the final decision about where to put the site, which is now in Westbury Reserve, is on the basis of a statistical look at the proportion of people that in your view - you asked them questions -

Ms ARCHER - So now you're complaining about community consultation - what a joke.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, community consultation should be part of it but I am staggered to think that all the other issues, including the fact that it is on the Tasmanian Reserve Estate, the fact that it is far from services, it has no gas, it has no water, it has no electricity, and it is on a disastrously dangerous and windy road. For all of those reasons you didn't take any assessment of that into account, in addition to public consultation.

Ms ARCHER -, You asked me a question about the decision of the previous site and I took you through that. You asked me why we moved to a different site. I have confirmed it was as a result of the community consultation. That is a good thing. There was nine months of consultation.

Dr WOODRUFF - One part of the equation.

CHAIR -Ms ARCHER - There were nine months of consultation and that was a process that culminated in the SEIS in relation to surveys that were done and now I am apparently being told that I shouldn't have based my decision on that, even though that was what the community was calling for.

Dr WOODRUFF - On that alone.

Ms ARCHER - I make no apology for the fact that we most based our decision on the community consultation. I didn't make it all alone. I have said to you as part of the SEIS, that was released publicly. I would urge you to read it, Dr Woodruff.

Dr WOODRUFF - You threw out all the other work that had been done by DPIPWE on the sites.

Ms ARCHER - It has some information in there that is very useful and we considered all of the information in there and before you butt in, I would like to not be butted in on and to finish what I am saying because it throws me as to what questions you have asked because you have asked numerous within one question.

We based it on that. We already own the crown land so there won't be a purchase cost for a piece of property like there would have been with the other. The Premier and I said publicly when we came out on the day to make the announcement, that we accepted there would be costs with putting in services. It was always going to be that we would look at, and there is federal funding available for that road, so whatever needs to occur on the road will occur and what we are now in the process of doing is part of all of the due diligence to get it ready for the planning assessment stage which has been delayed but again I make no apology in getting these things right.

Dr WOODRUFF - What about the threatened species assessment? They can't be costed.

Ms ARCHER - All the environment assessments have to be done as well.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, when you made your about face change to shift from the original Westbury site to the Westbury Reserve on Birralee Road, you said that - 'Due diligence had been undertaken'.

Ms ARCHER - Desktop due diligence.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes - 'desktop due diligence'. The Budget shows that your Government doesn’t have the commitment that you seemed to have this time last year towards building the Northern Regional Prison because -

Ms ARCHER - In what way?

Dr WOODRUFF - Looking at the Budget as provided - the estimated total cost is $270 million, although

Ms ARCHER - It's a 10-year project and the forward Estimates don't go out 10 years.

Dr WOODRUFF - I understand that but the estimated total cost is $270 million although the Northern Prison costs information on page 19 of the Budget Papers says that -

While a significant allocation has been made towards the cost of the construction of this facility, the final cost and associated funding remains uncertain.

However, you put a figure of $270 million: that's the same figure that the Government announced more than a year ago. Clearly, things have changed.

What has changed is that you made a snap decision to choose a site that not only has priceless natural values but has no services which are required for a prison so all the extra costs of those services haven't been included.

Why did you choose a site which is going to be so expensive?

Why have you put so little financial commitment into the Budget to do the work that you say that you're going to be doing? You say that you're going to be starting stage 1 early 2022 but there's only $7.8 million in the Budget for that financial year.

Ms ARCHER - We are currently in the process of doing all of the due diligence necessary for the planning process, so not the bill components and the reason why the heftier funding is in later years. The Premier and I on the day we made the announcement, and I will repeat it again, said we would have to respond and put additional funding in for services and other things. Once those are known, then, of course, we can look at and provide for that. There is no secret as you progress through a project some things may come up either unforeseen or costs increase. I can point to a very definite example of the $70 million Southern Remand Centre which is now an $85 million Southern Remand Centre with the $9.3 million on top for the shared facilities between the two. As a project progresses, sometimes the costs increase and we will meet those costs.

Dr WOODRUFF - Why did you chose a site with such a high bushfire risk? The information that residents were given when they spoke to a person from the Department of Justice, CROWPS, the residents' group formed in response to the prison announcement on Birralee Road

Ms ARCHER - They are both on Birralee Road so you mean the crown land site?

Dr WOODRUFF - Correct, Westbury Reserve on Birralee Road. Why did you choose a site that would require, in a bushfire situation, all the people from the prison to be taken to the Risdon Prison? That is what residents were told by a Department of Justice employee when they asked the question about what would happen during a bushfire. Can you confirm the evacuation plan for inmates at that prison would be to transport them to Hobart and put them in quote, 'tents', in Risdon Prison? Can you confirm that is what the bushfire evacuation would be?

Ms ARCHER - All of this I can confirm as being looked at appropriately as part of planning process. The bushfire risk provision has to be considered as part of any planning application and all of that work is being looked at this point in time. What has or has not been said, I do not have personal knowledge of that and so all I can do is take you on face value not all of which I am necessarily prepared to accept all is an accurate version.

Dr WOODRUFF - I am reporting what residents said was told to them by a Department of Justice person.

Ms ARCHER - Okay. If that is what was allegedly said, I am saying to you I do not have personal knowledge of that. It could have been said in the scenario of possibly this would happen, but none of those things have been determined and none of those things are a definite position. I might ask the Department Secretary, Ms Webster, to address that in particular in relation to what may or may not have been said. None of those things have been determined because they rightfully sit within the planning preparation. We certainly do not have a position on what would happen as part of an evacuation plan, because we have not even got a design of the complex itself yet. You appreciate we are at the early stages of this and we have still got to go through the design phase. I do not think it would have been meant in the context that a decision has been made. I would like the department secretary to clarify some of that for you.

Ms WEBSTER - I am not aware of that either so I cannot speak to that specifically, Ms Woodruff. What I can say is it will be considered obviously, as part of the planning process like any other project. The design of the northern regional prison will also have to include those elements of fire risk or emergency evacuation and all of those sorts of things. My understanding is it is far too early to speculate on what that specifically might look like.

Ms ARCHER - At the moment we are actively looking at all of that.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is surrounded by forest and has Forico plantation land to the wind side, which would be highly dangerous in a high bushfire situation. Residents are very concerned about that, including all the other issues they are concerned about.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, we have received some screenshots of a pro-prison Facebook group called Northern Regional Prison Site Info Page. These posts appear to show the Acting Chief Superintendent Ms Geraldine Hayes liking 'no prison' posts and ridiculing Greg Barns' 'no new prisons are smart' Justice perspective commentary, using some disturbing hyperbole which totally misrepresents Mr Barns' position on recidivism. Do you think it is appropriate for a senior Tasmania Prison Service staff person to be participating in a social media discussion in that way?

Ms ARCHER - I don't have any personal knowledge of that.

Dr WOODRUFF - I can show you a copy if you want it.

Ms ARCHER - I would prefer to take questions on this on notice because then we can have a proper considered look at this. I am not in the habit of just taking a glance at things. Because it is a staffing issue, you would appreciate that it is actually a departmental matter, not for me but for the department secretary so any questions you have on that we are happy to take on notice.

Dr WOODRUFF - The question still is the same.

CHAIR -Dr WOODRUFF - I will put the question on notice, thank you, Chair, and then I have another question in relation to a different matter.

Ms ARCHER - We have to get the question first. I am just wondering what the process is here because from past experience sometimes you get back a different question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will put the question I asked on notice to you.

Ms ARCHER - Okay, the exact question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I will provide the material.

Ms ARCHER - Thank you very much.