Residents Against Dapto Jail hosts community protest on Sunday

It’s not about jobs – it’s about location. 

That sign summed up much of the sentiment during a community walk/protest against the Kembla Grange prison proposal. 

A series of drop-in information and feedback sessions on the proposal began on Sunday morning.

The sessions are meant to enable community members to speak with Corrective Services NSW representatives and gain further information, but on Sunday also became a vehicle for residents to publicly voice opposition. 

(It's a) neglected area, and we don’t need any more negative influences in the town… There’s so much else that we need.

An estimated couple of hundred residents, many wearing red, marched from Dapto Ribbonwood Centre to the session at Dapto Square.

Further consultation sessions are scheduled to take place at Dapto, Berkeley and Unanderra this week.

Further consultation sessions are scheduled to take place at Dapto, Berkeley and Unanderra this week.

They were greeted by motorists beeping their horns in support of the protest. 

Not all were in their corner though; one passing motorist yelling out, “don’t you know how many jobs a jail would create?”  

This followed activist group Residents Against Dapto Jail last week presenting Shellharbour MP Anna Watson with nearly 14,000 hardcopy signatures against the proposal, so she can table them with state parliament.

Speaking at the event, Ms Watson said it had, “been clear from the word go; the community has sent a loud message to this government that they are opposed to this jail”. 

Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra and Kiama MP Gareth Ward on Sunday.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra and Kiama MP Gareth Ward on Sunday.

Dapto resident Joan Polonis said Dapto was a “neglected area, and we don’t need any more negative influences in the town… There’s so much else that we need”.

One of the organisers, Stephen Beck, 34, said his family had just purchased property in the Kembla Grange estate. 

Mr Beck said he wasn’t expecting to find out any new details on the proposal at the sessions. 

However, he said residents had turned out “en masse to say we don’t want it”. 

Mr Ward conversing with residents during Sunday's information session at Dapto. Pictures: Georgia Matts

Mr Ward conversing with residents during Sunday's information session at Dapto. Pictures: Georgia Matts

At Sunday’s session, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra Gareth Ward was inundated with questions from residents, many of them inquiring about the size of the proposed jail. 

Mr Ward said he had been advised not to attend the event, due to safety concerns. 

However, Mr Ward thanked residents for being “civil, and in the main respectful of our staff” and said he was not in favour or against the facility. 

He said he spoke to residents who were for and against the proposal. 

Further consultation sessions are scheduled to take place at Dapto, Berkeley and Unanderra this week.

Further consultation sessions are scheduled to take place at Dapto, Berkeley and Unanderra this week.

Mr Ward said this was only the beginning of the site investigation process, and no decision has been made yet. 

“I think people were interested to know that the maximum number of beds we would consider for that site is 1700,” he said.

“People have been talking about, speculating mostly on social media about 5000 beds. That’s something I was able to rule out today; that’s not the size of the facility we will be considering on this site.”

Further consultation sessions are scheduled to take place at the following venues: Dapto Ribbonwood Centre on Monday from 11.30am to 2.30pm; Winnima Way Reserve (outside Berkeley Neighbourhood Centre) on Tuesday from ​10am to 1pm; and Unanderra Community Centre on Tuesday from 4pm to 7pm.