Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Inquiry into Closure or Downsizing of Corrective Services NSW Facilities: attempting to politicize or bluntly telling it like it was?

A political decision was made by the O’Farrell Government to use the NSW public service as a cost cutting measure in the face of a 2011-12 budget deficit that wasn’t.
One of the local casualties was Grafton Gaol and its staff.
The Daily Examiner has taken a disapproving tone towards unspecified politicizing during NSW Legislative Council Select Committee into the Closure or Downsizing of Corrective Services NSW Facilities hearings:
I didn’t attend any of the Inquiry hearings to date so I have no idea how many speakers giving evidence mentioned the political background and, as the Grafton hearing transcript has still not been posted online I remain unenlightened.

However, what the Sydney hearing transcript shows is that one member of the select committee, Liberal Party MP David Clarke, appears to be more inclined to put the O'Farrell Government's case for the gaol closure than to seek to understand how this closure unfolded.

One has to wonder if this attitude continued once the Select Committee came to the Clarence Valley.
I do have a transcript of this speech from the 10 December 2012 Grafton public forum which accompanied that day’s hearing and readers can make up their own minds as to the legitimacy or otherwise of addressing the politics behind the gaol closure:
Firstly, I would like to thank the NSW Legislative Council for holding this Inquiry and for coming to the City of Grafton today to get an on-the-ground appreciation of how important an institution Grafton Gaol has been to the local economy and social fabric of the Clarence Valley.
A little over a year ago, I was fighting a by-election as the Country Labor candidate for Clarence, and one of my campaign issues was to warn of the possible privatisation or closure of Grafton Gaol.
My submission to this inquiry, written on behalf of Country Labor’s Grafton and Lower Clarence branches, outlines how this wasn’t hot air; we ended up with an effective closure, forced through without consultation.
This inquiry hopefully will put the downsizing of Grafton Gaol into some Statewide context and give Graftonians some answers to their questions about why this most political of decisions was made.
The people never accepted this decision and instinctively rallied to protest against it, in a way seldom witnessed in such a traditionally conservative rural area.
I pay tribute to the real heroes of the six-day picket outside the gates of the gaol -- those folk of all ages and backgrounds who came out of their homes and camped out to defy the powers that be, and keep a vigil over their gaol.
This decision came from Sydney; Corrective Services senior management had wanted to break up the culture of Grafton Gaol (whatever that meant), and this was a convenient fit with the Liberals ideological slashing of State public service jobs.
What would Grafton-born Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page – founder of the old Country Party and Australia’s 11th Prime Minister – have  thought of the National Party’s weak capitulation to the Sydney Liberals’ agenda?
Sir Earle was a conviction politician; he harboured the northerners' resentment of the 'Sydney octopus' and the Page family had been active in calls for a new State.
In January 1915, Sir Earle launched what became the Northern New South Wales Separation League in Grafton and in a grassroots network, formed more than 20 local branches.
He argued that metropolitan interests had stunted northern growth. The New State movement did not prevail, but its spirit lives on from time to time. It did in the people’s picket line.
The State Member for Clarence's evidence to this inquiry in Sydney and his recent comments to The Daily Examiner are unconvincing and smack of revisionism.
Regardless of when the MP was told of the plan to axe ‘x’ number of local jobs, he should have instinctively known that the right thing to do was to fight for those jobs.
Instead, he was quite prepared to sell out Grafton. Remember when this fellow was Mayor of Maclean Shire Council, he denigrated Grafton City Council when it suited his political campaign against council amalgamation.
And what can one make of the State Member for Clarence’s quote: “I was in the middle of an accident. It was an exceptional set of circumstances and everyone was on holidays, including the Premier.”
The electorate was looking for exceptional leadership, but it wasn’t to be found.
And the leaders of the Nationals, the party that so many of the electorate voted for in March 2011, were absent and silent as this betrayal of the bush was played out.  
Peter Ellem

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