Labor won't rule out support for Kembla Grange prison proposal

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson met with Labor's police and corrections spokesman Guy Zangari on Tuesday. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
Shellharbour MP Anna Watson met with Labor's police and corrections spokesman Guy Zangari on Tuesday. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

Shellharbour MP Anna Watson would not rule out her support for a prison to be built in Kembla Grange or elsewhere in West Dapto “if the site is appropriate”, at a media conference she called on Tuesday.

Meeting with Labor’s corrective services spokesman Guy Zangari near part of the proposed jail land, Ms Watson said she believed residents were not completely opposed to a jail.

“I’m backing my community on this,” she said, refusing to state a definitive position but saying she may back a Kembla Grange prison “if the government can identify a proposed area, that doesn’t impact on families, it doesn’t impact on schools…”.

“The community has said to me that they don’t oppose a prison in the Illawarra, or even in Kembla Grange or West Dapto, what they do oppose is that this prison is proposed right in their front yards,” she said.

The community has said to me that they don’t oppose a prison in the Illawarra, or even in Kembla Grange or West Dapto, what they do oppose is that this prison is proposed right in their front yards.

Anna Watson

“We are waiting for more detail.”

Like Ms Watson, Labor’s prison spokesman said NSW Labor did not yet have a firm position on whether or not it would support the proposal to build a jail in Kembla Grange.

Asked why Labor could not yet say a definitive no amid community outcry, Mr Zangari said he wanted more detail on whether the facility would be publicly or privately run, what the budget would be and what infrastructure would support the prison. 

“My job is to bring it all together as a collective on behalf on the NSW Labor opposition to ensure that the community is heard,” he said.

He said “processes needed to occur” before the party’s final position would be decided by Labor’s cabinet “in the coming months”.

“We will not simply make a determination without getting all the detail, and at the moment that detail is very limited,” he said.

He said Labor would talk to unions including the Public Services Association and the Prison Officers Vocational Branch to discuss their position on the jail before making a decision. 

“This is a very important decision to be made and it also impacts on the community. Let’s also put into the mix the fact that there could be potential jobs and economic benefits and they need to be put forward to the shadow cabinet,” he said. 

“That’s why today I am calling on the government to release more information.”

Hours after the media conference called by Ms Watson on Tuesday morning, she contacted the Mercury to say she would like to clarify her position stated earlier in the day. 

Repeating her earlier statement that she would only support a prison in the area “if an appropriate site could be found”, she said she wanted to make it clear that she believed the current site was unsuitable.

“I oppose the jail where they are proposing to put it now,” she said.

“And I don’t believe there are any other appropriate sites in West Dapto for a jail.”