Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A script by Gilbert and Sullivan?

A jail has been proposed to be built in Robertson. $20 million worth of employment per annum is being suggested as the economic benefit to the local community. Sound good? Too good to be true? You know what they say? If it sounds too good to be true - it probably is!

Without wishing to pre-judge the community's opinion, let me just say that if I were the Economic Development Officer for the Wingecarribee Shire Council, this proposal - which originated from the State Government's Corrective Services Department, not the Council - would be a gift from heaven.

What can a Council's Economic Development Officer do for a small rural village like Robertson? Frankly, very little. It is a rural economy, so it is barely subject to the influence of Council's policy initiatives. Can Council make it rain more? No!
What else can the EDO do for Robertson? Not a lot!

Along comes the "Man from the Ministry" with an offer to the Council: How would you like a jail? Great for the construction industry, great for local employment, you can plonk it in an otherwise undeveloped area (the fewer neighbours to upset the better). It ought be on a road with good access to Wollongong (the main source of potential "inmates" apparently).

Where do Gilbert and Sullivan enter into the story?

Well already, of course. Because none of this is real. It is "just a proposal". Other areas are dead keen to get a jail (of course). Don't worry about that - we can use it anyway. We'll "offer it" to Robertson, and just watch them scream! Great. The more noise they make, the better.


Sure, from Council's point of view, the more noise the Residents make, the better, as it means they will never have to offer Robertson a thing, ever, ever again. They can simply say: "Remember when we were going to give you a jail to solve your local unemployment problems, and diversify and modernise your rural-based economy. You could have had it all, and you said NO!".

Well, let us ask a few pertinent questions, before we allow Council to get away with that scam.

What infrastructure provisions are planned? A 200 inmate prison (and necessary staff and other workers and visitors) needs a lot of water, sewerage, electricity and road infrastructure, and land? Have these infrastructure costs been factored into the development proposal? Well, no, not yet, because this first round of discussions is to gauge the response of the community. Terrific. Council does not even have to do any work on the idea.

Let me do just a little of their work for them.

Sewerage: Robertson currently does not have a sewerage system. One has been planned for a specific (finite) population for Robertson, based upon Council's own rules for the maximum desired size for the village. If the jail is planned to connect to the Robertson Sewerage Scheme, then it will need to be re-designed, before it is even built. That will require new Environmental assessments, new consultations, new funding agfreements with the State. That alone could put this proposal off the map (and delay the proposed Sewerage Scheme for Robertson for another 5 years, easily).
If it is not to be connected to Robertson's sewerage, then there will be enormous environmental issues dealing with a "septic" system for that many people in the headwaters of the Kangaroo River Valley. It also would not be popular with the residents of Kangaroo Valley, but they already hate the State Government anyway (over the Tallawa Dam proposal), so they don't matter in this equation.

Water: Water is a serious issue in the district, right now, with Sydney proposing to pump ground water from the region, (announced today) as a way of getting the State Government off the joint hooks with the Tallawa Dam Proposal and the even more stupid proposal for a desalination facility at Kurnell. Where are they suddenly going to get sufficient water for a jail? What economic and environmental costs are involved in connecting the mains to the jail - when the water mains currently barely stretch past the boundaries of the village?

Land acquisition: Rural land in the Robertson area is highly expensive, generally. It is generally highly productive land. So presumably you need to look for an area of less productive land. Much of that kind of land is in the Sandstone country below Roberston's basalt capped mountains. A large part of that and is in fact declared as national parks, or reserves, for reasons to do with environmental protection.

Road access to Wollongong: The Robertson area is notoriously wet and foggy. It sits on top of the coastal escarpment, and so access is difficult even at the best of times, via either Macquarie Pass or Jamberoo Mountain Road. Hardly ideal.


Personally, I do not oppose a jail here. I simply do not have a view on it - because to me, it is so obviously not a serious proposal.

However, it is so obviously a complete gift from heaven for the officers and the entire Council of the Wingecarribee Shire. It is a win-win situation for them all - just so long as the people of Robertson scream their heads off, and say: "NO - we do not want your jail".

Then the men from the Ministry and the Council can all run away, laughing their heads off. The State Government can give the jail to Nowra - where land is cheaper, access is better, infrastructure already exists to cope with a development of this size, and where the environmental issues are less complex.

"And Robertson? Forget about it! Remember when we offered to solve all their economic problems, once and for all, back in the early 21st century? They turned us down!"

It is a perfect script from Gilbert and Sullivan.


So what can Robertson do to prevent this situation being used against us? Ask serious questions, and stare the Councillors (and officers) directly in the face, and say we do not believe you are serious.
Prove it to us, before we allow you to pull the wool over our heads with this scam.


At the time of writing this, there is not a single word about this proposal on the Council's website.

There is not even any mention of a Public Information Meeting which has been called by the Council for Wednesday 15 February, in the School of Arts Building, Hoddle St, Robertson, at 7:00pm.


Jenny Kena said...

Hi Denis
Great comments.
My view - Shoalhaven/Nowra has been lobbying to have the gaol for some years, they have much higher unemployment than us and to be honest a higher proportion of the gaol population - unfortunately it's true. Relatives and friends visiting people in gaol would be massively inconvenienced by having it on the outskirts of Robertson. Nowra has a train service and better road access and better infrastructure generally. As Dept of Corrective Services points out too, the highlands are already serviced by Goulburn gaol - which can be reached from here by bus/train.
So you are right, it is not going to happen. And there are dangers -
* anti prison people can get stirred up about all the trouble we might have if we get a gaol - there is horrible stuff happening at Canyonleigh with a group opposing the Youth off the Streets (YOTS) centre. Prisons have to be somewhere after all.
* it is an opportunity for Councillors opposed to it to look like heroes for no valid reason - I appreciate what our local Councillors do on some issues but there is something opportunistic about this issue
* and your point about offering something to Robertson we knock back.

I am in 2 minds about attending Friday's meeting because of these concerns but I may still go. But I will be attending the Council one next week - as you said it is just so easy to argue against it on all the practical grounds and no need to go down the anti prisoner road.


Denis Wilson said...

Thanks Jenny for your considered comments.
I am not aware of the background lobbying by Nowra, but I am not surprised. Steve Douglas made a similar comment too.
What annoys me is that the Council people are prepared to "pretend" that it is a real offer to Robertson.

Denis Wilson said...

And on a lighter note, my friend in Canada pointed out that it is our Aussie heritage bearing fruit. Thanks, Leo!
He asked: Doesn't every town aspire to have a jail?

From what I hear, no!