Show of support for farmer set to lose his land
FAMILY, friends and supporters of Lavadia landowner Ben Jones who have staged a peaceful gathering at the future correctional centre site want to be clear on one thing: they are not opposed to the construction of a jail in the Clarence Valley.
What they are opposed to, they say, is the way an elderly man has been treated by government authorities for the profit of a private enterprise.
On Friday people from all walks of life gathered on the property in support of the 83-year-old cattle farmer, who was told just before a public announcement that his 200ha property, on which he is currently building a home, would be acquired as the new site for the maximum-security Grafton jail.
Concerns included the way he was told, the perceived potential for the correctional centre to be built on a site of a willing landholder, and whether he would be adequately compensated.
Relative Jim Lloyd said Mr Jones said it needed to be crystal clear it was not a 'Not in My Backyard' issue.
"And we're not against a correctional centre, we're all for that to be built in an alternate location," he said. "It's about an elderly citizen who's worked hard all his life, continues to and is not a burden on the government, being treated fairly. In their eyes they are being fair but they're not."
WA resident Karen Morabito, who attended of behalf of her sister, said she was blown away by the thought the government "could even do this".
"It's just so unjust in anybody's eyes, and it's not really just a local issue either," she said.
A spokeswoman for Infrastructure NSW said discussions were under way with the landowner, and the preference was to reach agreement on the sale by negotiation direct with the landowner or his chosen representatives.
When asked whether there were offers from willing landholders in the area, she said the selected site at Lavadia was the most suitable site available within a 40km radius of the Grafton town centre.
"It was chosen due to a range of factors, including not being prone to bushfires or flooding and posing significantly less risk to the environment, community, and to Aboriginal or European heritage," she said. "The new correctional centre at Grafton is an important step forward for the state's prison infrastructure strategy."
But neighbour Barry Fletcher, whose property is adjacent to the jail site, is not convinced. "I worked in the system for 20 years and the evidence for 50 years has been against building more jails, and against private enterprise," he said.