The promised riot police arrived in the dark of night and broke up a picket line of Grafton jail employees and Grafton residents opposing the massive downgrading of the prison and the loss of 108 jobs.
Both Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell and Nationals deputy premier Andrew Stoner have steadfastly refused to speak to protesters, who include local Nationals MP Chris Gulaptis, or to negotiate over the dismantling of the prison.
Some 200 protesters turned their backs on the police as they secured the entrance to the jail and escorted inmates to waiting prison vans.
Under the state government plan to save $5 million only a remand section will remain at the Grafton Correctional Centre, which was first opened in 1893. Protesters estimate the flow-on effects from the loss of jobs will cost the region in excess of $20 million.
Grafton mayor Richie Williamson told News Ltd papers this morning, ‘We turned our back this morning as a community on this decision to essentially close the jail down’.
‘This is an extremely difficult time – we’ve seen the retraction of several major businesses in the past 18 months and this decision is a crushing blow,’ he said.
Shane O’Brien from the Public Service Association told ABC radio, ‘they are conservative, good members of the community and the response of the government has been to respond with overwhelming force’.
He said that in meetings with the police yesterday it became clear the government’s intention was to use whatever force was required to break the picket line, and following an event earlier in the week when prison staff attempted to drive at picketers it was decided to allow the removal of prisoners in silent protest.
Local MP Chris Gulaptis tried a last-ditch attempt to divert the move on Monday by proposing closing sections of Long Bay or Silverwater prisons but his requests fell on deaf ears.
He said the government’s commitments ‘to deliver services to the regions need to be honoured, beginning with Grafton’.
Mr Gulaptis said he could not speak for the premier or deputy premier but he described their failure to address the local community as ‘extremely disappointing’.