Petition success means West Dapto jail proposal to be debated in parliament

Anti-jail campaigners Mary Marciano, Sonia Huseyin, Jess Mesa and Alan Mesa presented their petition to Shellharbour MP Anna Watson on Friday. Picture: Supplied.
Anti-jail campaigners Mary Marciano, Sonia Huseyin, Jess Mesa and Alan Mesa presented their petition to Shellharbour MP Anna Watson on Friday. Picture: Supplied.

Two and a half months after the NSW Government revealed it was eyeing a massive site at Kembla Grange for a potential future minimum-to-maximum security prison, angry residents have collected nearly 14,000 hardcopy signatures against the plan.

Activist group Residents Against Dapto Jail on Friday unveiled their huge pile of petitions, delivering them to Shellharbour MP Anna Watson’s office so she can table them with state parliament.

Ms Watson, who said the petition contained 13,500 signatures, commended residents’ “mammoth achievement”.

“This petition further cements our community’s rejection of this proposal and I look forward to debating this issue on the floor of the NSW Parliament and representing the views of my community,” she said.

Group spokeswoman Jess Mesa, who has bought a block of land at Wongawilli’s Vista Park – near the proposed prison site – said she hoped the overwhelming opposition would send a clear message to the government.

“The government have said they simply wanted to have a conversation with the community about the idea,” she said.

“We want this debated in parliament as a priority and this proposal ripped up immediately.”

She said she hoped the petition would bring an end to the stress and worry which has been felt by residents since the prison proposal came to light.

The controversial plan was unveiled by Illawarra parliamentary secretary Gareth Ward on April 9, prompting an immediate outcry from residents worried about how it would affect the fast-growing West Dapto residential area.

Mr Ward has indicated the proposal could bring jobs and economic stimulus to Wollongong, but the government is yet to provide further details.

Residents have argued the site is too close to homes, contains environmentally sensitive lands – including a historic cemetery – and could be better used by industries related to the port.

At least 10,000 signatures must be collected in hard copy to trigger a parliamentary debate, with similar community campaigns in the Illawarra having had mixed success in the past.

For instance, a proposed public-private partnership for Shellharbour hospital was dropped by the government after staff gathered 10,000 signatures against the plan.

But, even six years after signatures were collected to call for an installation of lifts at Unanderra station, that project remains unfunded.

The prison petition announcement comes just days before Corrective Services’ official consultation sessions begin.

At the Sunday session, to be held at Dapto Square, anti-jail campaigners plan to march through the town to further signal their opposition.

Those wishing to attend the march are being encouraged to wear red and bring a banner, before raising their concerns with Corrective Services bureaucrats at the information session.

Wollongong lord mayor Gordon Bradbery, who says he does not support a prison in the proposed location, said he remained convinced Corrective Services were just “testing the water” with their proposal.

He said he hoped the strong show of community sentiment would be enough to oust the proposal, which was a long way from becoming a reality.

“I still think this is just a ‘dipping their toes in the water’ exercise to find out community sentiment, and if people are against it – or, of course, for it – they should make use of these sessions,” he said.

Corrective Services ‘information and feedback’ sessions:

  • Sunday, June 24, 10.30am to 1.30pm at Dapto Square on the corner of Princes Highway and Moombara Street.
  • Monday, June 25, 11.30am to 2.30pm, in the foyer of the Dapto Ribbonwood Centre.
  • Tuesday, June 26, 10am to 1pm, Winnima Way Reserve outside Berkeley Neighbourhood Centre, Berkeley.
  • Tuesday, June 26, 4pm-7pm, Unanderra Community Centre.