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Westbury Prison Site Location

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Tags: Westbury, Northern Prison, Forests

Westbury Prison Site Location, Cassy O'Connor, 24 June 2020



Together with the Westbury community and people who live on Birralee Road, we would like to understand why your Government chose a 70-hectare reserve with high conservation values as the new new northern prison site. This new site is a haven for multiple native species, including rare endemic birds. When you landed on this site to try to get out of political hot water over the previous site, were you aware that the land was set aside under the Regional Forest Agreement and is part of the National Reserve System? Given strong community opposition to this site as well as evidence of high conservation values, will you again reconsider and put the new northern prison in a repurposed Ashley Youth Centre at Deloraine where there is a skilled workforce and community acceptance of a prison next door?

This would allow your Government to build two new therapeutic youth detention facilities, north and south, that deliver better outcomes for young offenders. As your Resources minister might say, 'It is a win-win-win-win-win-win-win scenario'.



Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for that question and for her interest in this matter. Let me deal with the status of the land and the unfortunate mistruths that surround it.

First, the site was originally purchased from a private landowner because it was believed it contained a specific forest type that had been significantly reduced by agricultural development. It was not world reserve because of that fact. However, subsequent investigation revealed that the site did not contain this forest type but instead a similar but not threatened forest type. The cause of this initial error is not clear. It obviously occurred some time ago, but there is no criticism of those who undertook the initial assessments. The site does not contain pristine forest but shows evidence of a very long history of timber harvesting and, more recently, illegal firewood collection, stock grazing, rubbish dumping and shooting.

The site has not been actively managed by the Crown and is not the responsibility of DPIPWE's private land conservation program. The site does not contain the values for which it was originally purchased. Indeed, for more than a decade consideration has been given to allowing the land to be sold with the intention of allowing a portion of it to be cleared for a residence, which surprises me.

This is a bush block, in an ideal location to build a prison. That is exactly what we are going to do.

The member said quite a flowery introduction in terms of our thinking around this. I will explain what occurred in February and how we worked through this process. Obviously, the Attorney General and I met with the community. It would be fair to say - and I informed Cabinet when I next met with them - that I was surprised at the level of support in Westbury, to be frank, as a result of going to Westbury that day and meeting with those who were for and those against the prison.

I took the opportunity to speak to everybody on the street. The first person I spoke to was a woman with two younger people who were sitting across from the recreation ground, where I am sure some members in this place have played either cricket or football at some stage. Their playing at Westbury probably had the same amount of luck that I had. I crossed the road to speak to her. She said to me, 'Bring it on. I want jobs for these two young people here. They do not have jobs'. Interestingly enough she said that she worked for Ashley and she would feel very comfortable. She said, 'In fact, it doesn't concern me at all'.

I went down the street. I talked to people out the front of the coffee shop. They were similarly positive. I went into the coffee shop and had a chat with a group of older people who were sitting down having a coffee. The very clear message from the eight to 10 people who were in the shop was, 'Just get on and build it'.

I then met with the stakeholders through the course of the day. Obviously, I understood very clearly the position of WRAP and their opposition to that particular site -

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, please. It is difficult to hear.

Mr GUTWEIN - In terms of the conversation with WRAP, I do not think that I am stretching things too far to suggest that they made the point that they had no problem with a prison being in the municipality; they just did not want it at that particular site. They wanted it moved. I think somebody also suggested that we should move it to Ashley as you have just done, which is interesting. Moving it to Ashley puts it within four kilometres of Deloraine whereas the site that we have selected puts it over four kilometres away from Westbury.

Setting that aside, I also met with representatives, as did the Attorney-General, of the industrial estate. To be frank, they were split. Some were for it; some were agin it. But the ones who were agin said, 'What our concern is not that it is a prison or whether it is going to be a massive construction site for a period of time; our concern is that you will be putting 300 beds across the road from an industrial location. We currently operate to a permit where we do not operate 24 hours a day but if we wanted to that concerns us that the location of a prison in that site might fetter the industrial estate'. I have started to give that some thought.

I then went to meet with the resident who is the most affected by the original site and sat with him and his wife one Sunday afternoon and looked out their lounge room window. They pointed to where the prison would be. I indicated to them that I was giving thought to what was possible. I spoke to them about their thoughts about it moving further away from that location. They were not against a prison; the fact that it was being built almost in their front yard provided them with some concern.

We asked for further work to be done. This site, five kilometres down the road, owned by the Crown -

Ms O'Connor - A reserve.

Mr GUTWEIN - Not a reserve. I want to be clear. It is unallocated Crown land and, as I have described it, it has the characteristics of a bush block which unfortunately in recent times has been used for rubbish dumping.

Madam Speaker, we will continue our investigations but the minister has outlined a time frame and we believe that location will satisfy the vast majority of the people who live in the Meander region. We believe that location will satisfy the vast majority of those who are pragmatic in the Westbury community and we will get on and build it.