Cessnock Correctional Centre

I am as mad as hell about the way this Government is treating my community. I refer of course to the jail expansion occurring at Cessnock. The Cessnock Correctional Centre has been on its current site and in its current format for about 40 years, and there have been no real problems during that time. It is on a large block of land and is surrounded by forest. About five years ago it was announced that the centre would be expanded to accommodate another 250 people. That expansion has been completed and everything has progressed as it should with a minor amendment to the original plans. However, earlier this year the community of Cessnock learnt that the jail would be expanded to house 1,000 people. The jail was built to house about 700 people, although it now houses almost 800 because of the overpopulation of this State’s prison system. It is proposed to more than double the prison’s capacity. The visual amenity that protected the community from the sight of the jail will be lost as a result of the proposed expansion.

Of course, this could not happen without a conspiracy and manipulation of the planning instruments of this State. I will draw members’ attention to a number of documents. It was announced that the planning instruments of New South Wales would be changed to provide that amendments could be made to the prison planning system effective earlier this year. That document was released during the Christmas and New Year period at the direction of the Minister for Planning, and it was exhibited from 13 January until 10 February 2016. On 18 March, the Minister released the new infrastructure State environmental planning policy [ISEPP] for jails and prisons. His media release states:

The changes will allow low impact additions to be completed under exempt and complying development arrangements.

Of course, before this change took place if a prison development project cost less than $30 million it would be dealt with using a local planning instrument, and if it cost more than $30 million it would be dealt with as a State significant development, and therefore would be assessed by the Department of Planning and Environment. The $30 million limit was subsequently removed for the expansion of jails. On 20 March, the good Minister announced an incredible expansion project at Cessnock Correctional Centre. The original project involved an expansion to accommodate another 620 beds, but that later became 1,000 beds. However, neither the number of beds nor the expansion of the jail are the issue. The issue is the manner in which this has happened. If the project had been dealt with as a State significant development and had then been assessed by the department, all the relevant factors would have had to be considered. The media release about the proposed ISEPP states:

The existing provision (clause 26) permitting certain developments to be carried out without consent is proposed to be amended to allow additions to existing correctional complexes without a restriction on the number of prisoners to be accommodated or staff to be employed at the site…

The words “without restriction” are incredibly important, as is the phrase “existing correctional complexes”. This change in the planning instrument means that an existing prison footprint will allow the Government to do whatever it wants as long as the proposal is subjected to a review of environmental factors [REF]. I received a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary yesterday identifying some of those factors. It states:

The NSW Department of Justice is required to consider a number of factors, including the social and economic impacts, amenity, traffic, geotechnical information, stormwater and waste management…

The reality is that the REF document, which comprises about 600 pages, has failed to consider any of those issues in any significant way. At the moment, we are dealing only with the footprint inside the prison boundary, which I know is important and must happen. However, the Government must also consider the outer footprint.

We know from previous studies for Lithgow, South Coast and Kempsey jails that there are impacts outside the fence, which include the social and policing infrastructure of towns or communities and the impact on other services such as schools. We know that from government reports. Cessnock jail will now have an additional 1,000 prisoners and the community will not receive any other contributions.