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'Grafton people can be proud'

Clarence Valley Council Mayor Richie Williamson has an emotional moment after the riot squad stood down after escorting six prison vans into Grafton Jail on day six of the Grafton jail community picket line yesterday.
Clarence Valley Council Mayor Richie Williamson has an emotional moment after the riot squad stood down after escorting six prison vans into Grafton Jail on day six of the Grafton jail community picket line yesterday. Debrah Novak

CLARENCE Valley Mayor Richie Williamson finished an emotional speech thanking protesters for their dignified behaviour during the six-day blockade of the Grafton Jail with a statement of pride in the people of his region.

"Can I congratulate everyone who is here this morning on their dedication to what is the Grafton Jail but also the way they conducted themselves this morning," Cr Williamson said.

"It's been a long and frustrating and sometimes emotionally charged wait, and we have today conducted ourselves in a way that I am absolutely proud to call myself a Clarence Valley resident and a Graftonian."

Earlier union official Shane O'Brien cautioned the crowd of more than 100 protesters who awaited the arrival of six trucks to take approximately 100 prisoners out of the jail.

He warned rowdy scenes would give politicians an excuse to dismiss the legitimacy of their protest against the attack on their community.

"Today, everyone around Australia saw the decency and the dignity that the community of Grafton have," Mr O'Brien said.

"What you've seen today is an attempt by the Government to provoke a confrontation, to distract the general public from the reality of the stupidity and heartlessness of the decision that they have made.

"At 11 o'clock yesterday morning I attended a meeting with a commander of the operation; it was made quite clear the Government had given direction to police that the trucks would get through the picket line and remove the prisoners and the police were to make sure that happened.

"We have always been peaceful.

"The decision that was made today is a decision that is a credit to each and every one of the people that has attended this picket line."

In a press release yesterday Premier Barry O'Farrell repeated his claim that the downsizing of the jail was necessary to cut costs, but said his Government would come up with plans to move jobs to the region.

"I recognise the move has been difficult for the Grafton community and I thank them for the way they have conducted themselves," Mr O'Farrell said.

The NSW Government will now urgently identify Sydney-based public sector jobs which can be transferred to Grafton.

This follows a request from Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis.

"Chris Gulaptis has made no bones about his position and I have agreed to his request to look at decentralising to Grafton," Mr O'Farrell said.

"The Government understands the economic impact of this decision on Grafton so today I have directed Cabinet's sub-committee on Rural and Regional NSW, as its top priority, to identify metropolitan-based public service jobs that can be transferred to Grafton.

"The report of this committee will be assessed by Cabinet within eight weeks because I understand the urgency of the situation in Grafton."

Topics:  chris gulaptis, grafton jail, richie williamson



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