LOCALS will gather for another rally in Grafton today in protest against the government’s decision to downgrade the town’s jail, as the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, faces calls from Nationals’ MPs to delay the plan.
The state’s prison officers will remain at work today, despite saying yesterday that they would call a snap strike from midday.
The chairman of the prison officers’ branch of the Public Service Association, Matt Bindley, said the union had agreed to allow a strike for two hours today, which would have disrupted the transfer of prisoners and held up court proceedings, but decided against it late yesterday.
In Grafton, hundreds of locals have formed a picket since Friday over plans to downgrade the historic jail to a court operation, which unions say will cost jobs and kill the community.Advertisement
The Nationals MP for Clarence, Chris Gulaptis, has urged Mr O’Farrell to delay the downsizing until crisis talks are held.
The Local Government Minister, Don Page, another north coast National, is concerned about the effect on the local economy of moving prisoners from Grafton to Cessnock.
”I’ve indicated I’ll go away and have a look at those concerns to see what can be done,” Mr O’Farrell said yesterday.
The Premier said it cost twice as much to house prisoners at the 119-year-old Grafton Correctional Centre compared with other regional jails, but he admitted not everyone was happy with the change.
”There is a problem, which is the cost of maintaining prisoners in Grafton,” he said.
”Cheaper costs estimated in the order of savings of $5 million a year … can’t be sneezed at.”
Seven trucks arrived at the jail on Sunday to transfer prisoners to Cessnock, but only one managed to get through the crowd of up to 300 people.
A Public Service Association spokesman, Shane O’Brien, said protesters had managed to stop the truck for five hours before forcing it to turn around.