Letter to the Editor in The Daily Examiner 14 July 2012:
I write to express my feelings of shock and dismay at the loss of jobs and other impacts caused by the New South Wales Government's downsizing of the Grafton Jail.
At the picket line on Ramornie Day, I was both inspired by the strength of the community's support for the workers, their families, the families of inmates and for Grafton and Clarence Valley, and saddened as I knew the trucks were in transit to take remaining inmates away, the final act in axing local jobs.
The NSW Government and the National Party representatives, including, and I hate to say this, the local State Member, got everything wrong - the downsizing, the immediacy of it, refusing to talk to locals directly, and no plans put in place for the workers, their families, and the city.
On site at the picket I met with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, who were there protesting the jobs going and deeply worried for inmates, up to 70% of them Indigenous, being moved to Kempsey, Cessnock or other faraway jails.
Despite what we know from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which recommended inmates have regular contact with family members, there were no transition plans in place either.
There are many cruel impacts caused by this callous treatment; teachers who are offered a redundancy but then told they cannot go into teaching elsewhere for 12 months under some State Government rules. These rules could have been relaxed for them.
When the South Grafton Abattoir closed late last year, a State Government Rapid Response was deployed. Why couldn't there be a similar response for the jail?
We were told it cannot apply to the public sector, but this public service closure, is ripping the guts out of Grafton. Again, these can be fixed by political decisions.
Like all locals, the question we are asking is how much more can the Clarence Valley take?
Grafton is a great city and the Clarence Valley is stocked with solid and stoic people, who will rebuild and pick up the pieces, but this betrayal is hard to accept.
I know Grafton Chamber of Commerce president Jeremy Challacombe said we should not be political, and I understand where he is coming from, but I am political and proudly call myself a politician, and one who speaks up for us locals.
That is my job, nothing more, nothing less. This is political and it was a political decision of the NSW Liberal Premier Barry O'Farrell and his Deputy, National Party Leader Andrew Stoner, to downsize Grafton Jail.
It could have easily been a political decision to not downgrade the jail to a remand centre, and at least, do what the local community kept calling for, 'to push the pause button'.
Where to from here? We must work together to ensure we attract whatever support we can to Grafton and the Clarence Valley, so that all can continue to not only survive but flourish.
We need to take advantage of all opportunities and openings, and go for them. This is what I shall be doing with the local community.
Janelle Saffin MP
Federal Member for Page