Minister for Corrections David Elliott has announced that the Northern Pathways consortium – Serco, John Laing, John Holland and Macquarie Capital – has made the winning bid to design, build and operate the new Grafton gaol.
“The government has endorsed the recommendation by the project’s steering committee and will now enter contract negotiations to deliver the facility by 2020,” Mr Elliot said.
Meanwhile, Reuters UK has reported that the 20-year contract “to operate what will be Australia’s largest correctional facility” was worth an estimated $2.6billion to Serco, a British outsourcing company.
“Winning preferred bidder status on the deal is a major boost for Serco, which has been restructuring after a string of profit warnings [a statement issued by a company advising the stock market that profits will be lower than expected],” Reuters reported.
“…Serco reported a 14 percent fall in full-year trading profit last month and said its recovery could take longer than some analysts expected.”
Mr Elliot and Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis made concurrent announcements – Mr Elliot in Martin Place, Sydney and Mr Gulaptis at Memorial Park, Grafton – on Thursday March 16.
The 1,700-bed gaol will be located approximately 12.5km southeast of Grafton and 3km northeast of the Clarence Valley Regional Airport.
Mr Elliot’s media release states that the gaol will provide “regional jobs, state-of-the-art security and rehabilitation services for inmates”.
“In a boost for regional residents and businesses, the prison will inject more than $560 million into the local economy, with 1,100 jobs created during construction and about 600 permanent jobs once operational,” he said.
“The prison will have maximum security beds for 1,000 males and 300 females; it will also house 400 minimum security male inmates.”
Mr Elliot said that Northern Pathways’ preferred bid “was superior in terms of operational excellence and price” compared to the other bids.
“Their design has a significant focus on our commitment to reduce reoffending,” he said.
“Delivering this project as a public private partnership provides taxpayers with value for money and has encouraged innovation and excellence.”
The Independent spoke with Mr Gulaptis, who said that community concerns that many of the 600 mooted jobs would be filled by fly-in-fly-out [FIFO] workers were unfounded.
“You can’t run a gaol that way,” he said.
He said he had spoken with the Corrective Services commissioner, who ruled out FIFO workers filling the positions.
“This will be about employing as many locals as you can find, who are qualified for that purpose,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“This is about local jobs and significant investment in the local economy – high-paying jobs, which is exactly what is needed in the valley.”
He said training and recruitment programs would be made available to local workers.
Mr Gulaptis said upgrades to the Grafton Base Hospital were “being discussed among the board and management of the Local Health District (LHD) and Infrastructure NSW”.
“The hospital will have to provide some sort of medical services to the inmates; security measures will have to be put in place,” he said.
“I understand the planning is underway.”
Mr Gulaptis confirmed that he and former Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson had met with Serco representatives in October 2015 under the auspices of the Foundation for Regional Development Ltd, which is a non-profit organisation that “partners with communities, governments [and] development organisations … [to] assist with investment and expansion of business in country and regional Australia”, among other objectives.
Serco is a member of the foundation.
Mr Gulaptis said the meeting played no part in the selection of Northern Pathways to deliver the project.
He said his “views on Serco were not canvassed”.
“A number of proponents put in some high class project propositions,” he said.
“Serco was deemed to be the best; they have a track record of running correctional facilities in Western Australia, Queensland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“They won on their own merits, not because they were given the inside running [after] they met with someone.”
When asked if there had been any meetings with other bidders, Mr Gulaptis said he did not “recall any”.
However, he said: “I do vaguely recall [a meeting], and it might have been with the winning proponent some time ago; it was probably well before the brief went out to attract prospective operators.”
On the “purpose of having a public-private partnership” to build and operate the prison, Mr Gulaptis said: “It takes a lot of the burden off the state … and, at the end of the day, we end up with a facility.”