The Northern Regional Prison Proposed for Marney’s Hill Reserve at Brushy Rivulet on Birralee Road, Westbury

A submission by John Hawkins to be tabled at the Meander Valley Council Public Meeting, 11 August 2021

  • The job of the Meander Valley Council is to represent the interests of those who pay their wages through their rates.
  • The job of the Meander Valley councillors is to protect those that elect them from unsuitable developments.
  • Currently the council appears to be acting over proposed prison as the complicit agent for a misguided Liberal Tasmanian state government.
  • According to The Examiner on 1 August 2021: 1600 homeless people are sleeping rough this winter in Tasmania every night.
  • The payment of a million dollars per prisoner to house 270 high security criminals rather than using the money to solve the long term problem of 1600 homeless Tasmanians suggests that this government is unfit to govern.

The First Northern Regional Prison Site Proposal for Tasmania.

On 11 August 2009, the Meander Valley Council and Glen Avon Farms Pty Ltd, the owners of the first proposed prison site, signed a deed of agreement, that created a new industrial area at Westbury on the Birralee Road.

Under the deed, the Meander Valley Council would fund and perform preliminary infrastructure works to the industrial precinct over land then owned by three different entities, one of which was Glen Avon Farms. These works were defined as ‘spine works’.

The spine works were the necessary precursor to the development of the industrial precinct into smaller industrial sublots, this was the council’s vision for the area as set out in its Outline Development Plan in the then Meander Valley Planning Scheme 1995. 

The deed, as it relates to Glen Avon Farms and the council, ensures that the infrastructure works were ‘provided to the land and paid for’ by the Meander Valley Council who undertook the spine works during 2010/2011.

The end vision was that smaller industrial sublots facilitated by the spine works would be sold by Glen Avon Farms and other participating landowners to small industrial businesses over the following decade. The intent was that ‘sublots’ would be steadily taken up by industry and a thriving industrial precinct would gradually be created.

Glen Avon Farms and the other participating landowners are required to repay the Meander Valley Council for the cost of the infrastructure works performed by the council on their respective parcels of land.

It is understood that Glen Avon’s financial contribution to the infrastructure works performed by the Meander Valley Council was calculated to be approximately $600,000. This debt sits as a ‘charge’ on Glen Avon’s land in much the same way as a mortgage.

It should be considered that the council is effectively a mortgagee over the land owned by Glen Avon Farms. They have a vested interest in the land and cannot claim to be at arm’s length from the proposed prison. The purchase of the land by the state would neatly solve a possible pending financial problem for the council and this I suggest was the reason for the siting of the proposed prison at Westbury.

Over the past decade Glen Avon Farms has attempted to sell sublots on its land. Only one has sold. The debt under the deed becomes immediately due and payable on 31 January 2022. Interest is payable on any outstanding amount and is calculated at 10% per annum, on a compounding basis. The clock is ticking!

The council’s vision for the small sublot industrial precinct at Birralee Road has failed to materialise regarding the land owned by Glen Avon Farms. This debt is now a potential financial millstone around the neck of Glen Avon Farms.

The development is also becoming a millstone for the Meander Valley Council and a possible noose around the neck of the Mark Shelton MHA who signed the deed with Glen Avon Farms on behalf of the Meander Valley Council in August 2009 while he was mayor.

After the announcement on 1 October 2019 of the first Northern Regional Prison proposal by Minister Archer, as Attorney-General and Minister for Corrections, an immediate public meeting was called and held in Westbury to address local concerns over this project. Some three hundred very cranky people attended. Shelton, a promoter and defender of the first prison proposal at Westbury, spoke on behalf of the Liberal Party.

Shelton failed to allude to, or even disclose his connections with the deed he had signed as Meander Valley mayor ten years earlier. I strongly suggest that this deed links Shelton with Glen Avon Farms and the debt of $600,000 and accordingly consider the man to have colluded with the dominant but invisible Liberal voting block within council.

Was this murky business arrangement being secretly unscrambled to dump a prison on the peaceful, historic, rural township of Westbury?

When the state government was supposedly looking for a site for its Northern Regional Prison in 2017, the former Mayor Shelton was clearly aware of land in the Westbury industrial precinct owned by Glen Avon Farms.

He also knows of the almost complete lack of precinct sales, the size of the debt and that time was running out. By using a targeted ‘Expression of Interest’ the Tasmanian Government and Shelton are in a position to sort out this approaching problem between the council and Glen Avon Farms by ensuring that a Northern Regional Prison located illogically in Westbury would unscramble this debt and hit the bullseye fair and square for Glen Avon Farms.

At $35,000 per hectare for a prison site in Westbury this creates a high stakes target, promoted by the local Liberal member such a proposal involves a large sum of money. Now Speaker in the current parliament, former Mayor Shelton by his actions in not proclaiming a past association with this site at the Westbury prison meeting may be seen as having a lot to hide.

Shelton’s past involvement may yet prove to be the reason that the village of Westbury and its environs is still the slated as the proposed site, under a second Liberal Government proposal for a Northern Regional Prison.

Mr Shelton and his Dorothy Dixer

Reference is made to the Dorothy Dixer asked by Mr Shelton in the Tasmanian Parliament over a year before the location of the prison at Westbury was announced:

Hansard 20 Sept. 2018.

Corrections – Prison Capacity and Proposed Facility

Mr SHELTON question to MINISTER for CORRECTIONS, Ms ARCHER

[10.51 am.]

Could the minister please update the House on the Hodgman Liberal Government’s progress on delivering our plan to increase prison capacities and keep Tasmanians safe?

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, for his question and his keen interest in this matter, particularly being a northern member in this House.

I am pleased to inform the House that expressions of interest have now opened for landowners in northern Tasmania interested in submitting their site for consideration as a location for a new prison. This Government has today sent invitations for participation in the process, targeted to northern Tasmanian councils, utility companies, the property sector and economic development groups alike. The Department of Justice will also continue canvassing potential crown land options and work with relevant state and federal government agencies to identify any suitable sites that are surplus to core government requirements. The department will also conduct a range of community engagement activities, including information sessions, with the expressions of interest remaining open for nine weeks and closing on 22 November this year.

This is a significant step towards delivering on our plan to increase prison capacity and keep Tasmanians safe. This Government is investing in the modern prison infrastructure our state needs to ensure serious and dangerous criminals are securely behind bars and we are committed to building a new prison in northern Tasmania at an estimated cost of $270 million to house approximately 270 prisoners. The prison will be built in two stages, with construction expected to commence in the 2019-20 financial year on the first stage, providing for up to 140 beds following an extensive planning and design phase. Not only will this project deliver on our commitment to boost prison capacity but it is expected to create thousands of jobs which will further stimulate the growing northern economy.

This year’s state budget included not only $45 million of a $150 million project for stage one of the new northern prison, but also a massive $70 million investment in a new southern remand facility on the Risdon Prison Complex site. These two new major projects are expected to create more than 4000 direct and indirect jobs during construction and depending on the access and shape of the northern site, the land size required will be approximately 20 hectares.

My question: What is the extent of Mr Shelton’s keen interest in this matter a year before the proposed prison site was announced?

Conclusion over determination of the first prison site

The Tasmanian Integrity Commission must be asked to fully investigate the actions of the state government, the Meander Valley Council, and the former mayor Mark Shelton regarding any undeclared involvement prior to the announcement of Westbury as the proposed site for the Northern Regional Prison. In particular, the actions of Shelton and his connections with Glen Avon Farms and the outstanding debt to Meander Valley Council.

This connection was not mentioned by Shelton when he addressed the first Westbury public meeting held to discuss this matter of a proposed Westbury Prison.

Further the inquiry should investigate all aspects over the targeting of the Expression of Interest process which involved a small agricultural community being saddled with a prison without consultation.

I request that a submission including these terms should be put to the Integrity Commission on behalf of the petitioners facilitated by the General Manager of the Meander Valley Council at the meeting on 11 August 2021.

The Second Prison Site Proposal

The Liberal state government, for reasons best known to themselves but possibly related to corruption over due process, chose a new Northern Regional Prison site, this time in a public reserve at Westbury, held in trust for the people by both the state and federal governments for protection as a part of Australia’s National Reserve System. Australia has a National Reserve System that seeks to meet its International Biological Diversity obligations towards nature.

This caused The Tasmanian Land Conservancy to issue the following statement:

“The Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC) is a not-for-profit, apolitical, registered environmental organisation that owns and manages land of high conservation significance (tasland.org.au). Established in 2001, the TLC is now one of the largest private landholders in Tasmania with conservation reserves extending over 30,000 ha. TLC reserves are protected by a conservation covenant on title under the Nature Conservation Act 2002. The TLC works both on our own reserve network and with private landholders to achieve conservation. The Revolving Fund program, delivered by the TLC, enables the organisation to identify and acquire land with conservation significance, secure a conservation protection on the title through a covenant, and sell the land to a conservation-minded buyer.

In 1999/2000, land (PID 7031141) on Birralee Road, Westbury was purchased by the state government through federal government funded Private Forest Reserve Program for the purpose of conservation.

In February 2011, in discussions with the state government (Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment) offered the property to the Tasmanian Land Conservancy to sell (with a covenant on title) through the TLC’s Revolving Fund program with the proceeds to remain in the fund to support future conservation purchases.

In May 2015, the TLC completed the proposal for a conservation covenant under the Nature Conservation Act 2002 (Brushy Rivulet – Westbury CONSERVATION COVENANT PROPOSAL) as part of the process. The proposal outlined the various natural values of the property and identified the suitable habitat for a range of rare and threatened species. Since then, the TLC has been awaiting finalisation of the process through the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment (DPIPWE) which administers conservation covenants under the Nature Conservation Act 2002.

On 18 June 2020, the TLC was verbally informed by DPIPWE that the transfer of the property to the TLC would no longer transpire, as the property was selected as the site of the northern prison. The TLC was not informed of this decision until after the Tasmanian Government media release was made public, notifying the community of the government’s decision.

This was a government decision to build a prison on a nature reserve.

The TLC is yet to receive any formal correspondence from DPIPWE or the Department of Justice in relation to the matter. The TLC has requested copies of relevant documents including the executed deed of transfer which the TLC has not received. Through the RTI release (019) the TLC now has a copy of the executed deed of transfer. We have sought legal advice in relation to the deed, which indicates the minister has no obligation under the deed to transfer the land to the TLC.

As outlined in the Brushy Rivulet – Westbury CONSERVATION COVENANT PROPOSAL the (70 Ha) property has numerous natural values, including suitable habitat for a range of rare and threatened species. The TLC is supportive of the property’s conservation (as originally intended) through the Revolving Fund mechanism.

The TLC believes the property (PID 7031141) on Birralee Road, Westbury should be conserved as originally intended through the Private Forest Reserve Program, contributing to the National Reserve System.”

The Tasmanian Land Conservancy is a partner with the state government Department, DPIPWE, so its criticism of this proposed development is even more potent when it is so reliant on State and Federal funding. Biting the hand that feeds you springs to mind!

My question: I request that the minister administering the Nature Conservation Act should be asked to answer the questions raised in this letter/statement in writing. This further poses the question: What possessed the Minister for Corrections to buy into such a controversial site?

A Lack of Probity

To illustrate the lack of probity over process I ask the Minister for Corrections and Attorney General Elise Archer to answer the following questions either in person if present or in writing if not regarding her press release announcing the new Birralee Road site of the 19 June 2021.

This press release is interspersed with my observations and questions. The ministerial press release is in quotes italicised and poses and provides for a number of important questions.

Elise Archer, Attorney-General and Minister for Corrections press release:

“The Tasmanian Liberal Government is committed to delivering on its election commitment to build a $270 million Northern Regional Prison to address the challenges facing the State’s correctional system.”

Minister Archer’s lack of command over her portfolio can be seen in the lacerating Report of the Auditor General on the Tasmanian Prison Service, No.3 of 2019-202. Some extracts from this report are reproduced below:

“Meeting inmate demand can be challenging because it is influenced by policy and sentencing decisions beyond the control of prison services. The safe and efficient operation of prison services can also be impeded by operational limitations, such as shortages in the number of required Correctional Officers (COs) and difficulties in recruiting them. Our conclusion is Tasmanian Prison Service (TPS) has not been running an efficient service

TPS does not have a strong approach to modelling of future inmate numbers and associated staffing to ensure it has sufficient resources to run its prisons safely and securely.

This has led to TPS struggling to cope with changes in Tasmanian Government (Government) policy and sentencing…

In short, TPS did not have enough COs to effectively and efficiently run the prison service…

Workforce planning has not been fully developed, while improvements in the rostering of COs are needed to ensure the right staffing levels are achieved across the prison service. TPS has acted to fill the resourcing gaps by predominantly using staff overtime. While this mitigation has been essential to ensure the service can operate, it has had adverse consequences. Firstly, on the cost of running the service, as overtime rates are expensive. Secondly, this has put a strain on existing staff resulting in sickness absences, both short and long term…This resulted in the increased frequency and duration of prison lock-downs, requiring inmates to remain in their cells for longer periods of time. Without these enforced measures inmates and prison staff safety and security would be at risk. There are also challenges in attracting the right number and calibre of staff to the service…”

My question: Please will the minister address the subject of the legislation introduced by her government, and noted by the Auditor General, that has created the need for a new prison?

“This vital project will support more than 1000 jobs and deliver an economic boost of $500 million to the region according to the recently completed and independently conducted Social and Economic Impacts Study.”

My question: Please will the minister comment on why the Victorian Minister for Corrections Natalie Hutchins announced in October 2020 that the building of the Geelong prison would also provide more than 1,000 jobs, during construction with $279 million in economic benefit to the Geelong region by expanding the new maximum-security prison from 700 beds to 1248 beds. Minister Archer’s figures for Westbury are 270 beds. This shows that Minister Archer’s prison has half the number of beds and nearly twice the economic benefit. I ask the Minister for Corrections: Which minister is lying?

“The Government has listened carefully to the Westbury community and local businesses during an extensive community consultation process for the preferred Northern Regional Prison site.”

My questions: Would Minister Archer please comment on the following:

  1. Does the minister agree that both of the proposed Northern Prison sites were announced without warning, and by decree?
  2. Does the minister agree that there was absolutely no community consultation over the initial proposed placement of the prison at Westbury which established this village as the preferred site, other than with the Meander Valley Council?
  3. Has the minister aided and abetted the Meander Valley Council in their efforts to block all forms of community consultation?
  4. Has the minister involved the Meander Valley Council in making the holding of this meeting as difficult as possible, it requiring two petitions to finally back them into the corner?
  5. Does the minister agree that the Meander Valley Council is right to remove all its council advertising from the Meander Valley Gazette because of the publication’s refusal to follow the Meander Valley Council directives?
  6. Does the minister agree with the writs issued against the journalist Sharon Webb by Meander Valley Council in an effort to stifle her right as a journalist to freedom of speech?
  7. Did the minister concur with the bogus restriction on the numbers allowed to attend the public meeting on 11 August as decreed by Meander Valley Council?

“It is clear there are some that support the benefits the new prison brings to the region while others are not in support of the site. A clear theme reiterated by community members however, was that building the prison at a site further away from the township of Westbury would be preferable.”

“Many indicated that they would prefer a different location, further away from the Westbury town centre. In addition, some businesses in the Valley Central Industrial Precinct had some concerns with the location.”

“A suggestion from numerous meetings with businesses and community members revealed that many would prefer a site further away from the town centre.”

“After careful consideration and taking on board the feedback, a new site has now been identified for the Northern Regional Prison.”

“This new site is a Crown land site at Brushy Rivulet on Birralee Road 5.2 kilometres from the Westbury town centre.”

My question: Why was the history and reserve status of this land and its inclusion in the National Reserve System omitted from the minister’s press release?

Does the minister agree that it is not ‘just’ Crown land because in 1999/2000, land (PID 7031141) on Birralee Road, Westbury was purchased by the state government through federal government funded Private Forest Reserve Program for the purpose of nature conservation?

This irrefutably suggests that the press release is deceitful in its intention, deceiving both the Tasmanian people and the parliament.

“To be clear, the government will not be pursuing the previous preferred site.”

My question: Does this confirm that the first proposed site for a Northern Regional Prison was compromised and may have been found to be corrupt?

“Preliminary analysis of this Crown land site has been undertaken while further, more detailed work on-site will now progress.”

“I thank the residents of the Westbury and broader Meander Valley community for their valuable feedback and participation in the extensive consultation process.”

“We will now undertake further due diligence of this new site over the coming weeks, as well as talking to local landholders and engaging the local community.”

“At a time when the state needs jobs more than ever before, we are committed to delivering the Northern Regional Prison in an effective and timely manner.” – Elise Archer, Attorney-General and Minister for Corrections

Conclusion

The Corrections Minister has failed to comprehend the problem created by a Liberal Party decision to place the Northern Regional High Security Prison at Westbury. Self-serving Liberal Party acolytes, such as Shelton, Cameron, Bower, Kelly and Johnson, working within the Meander Valley Council, have actively promoted a cause that may advance their political position.

This has caused the poorly-informed and -advised Minister for Corrections Elise Archer considerable embarrassment and distress.

This minister in turn has proved incapable of administering her portfolios as detailed in the recent damming report by the Auditor-General on the Tasmanian Prison Service. Her lack of command has been confirmed by the movement of the Northern Regional Prison from one possibly corruptly chosen site to a public nature reserve at Marney’s Hill.

I ask that the meeting is given sufficient time to debate a motion requesting that the Integrity Commission be asked to fully investigate the actions of the state government, the Meander Valley Council, and the former mayor Mark Shelton regarding their undeclared involvement over the first Glen Avon Farm site for the proposed Westbury Northern Regional Prison and all aspects of the initial Expression of Interest Process which was clearly tainted.

I propose that meeting votes that the second site chosen again without community consultation by the state government on Marney’s Hill Reserve, Westbury should be rejected, and that the meeting resolves to call upon the Meander Valley Council to support and facilitate this action without fear or favour.

John Hawkins

1 https://elisearcher.com.au/new-site-for-the-northern-regional-prison/

2 https://www.audit.tas.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/Full-Report-Tasmania-Prison-Service-use-of-resources.pdf


John Hawkins was born and educated in England and now calls Tasmania home. He is the author of ‘Australian Silver 1800–1900’ and ‘Thomas Cole and Victorian Clockmaking’ and ‘The Hawkins Zoomorphic Collection’ as well as ‘The Al Tajir Collection of Silver and Gold’ and nearly 100 articles on the Australian Decorative Arts. He is a Past President and Life Member of The Australian Art & Antique Dealers Association. John has lived in Australia for 54 years.