Job losses loom as Dhurringile Prison prepares to close

JHAVE YOUR SAY... Dhurringile Prison is set to be controversially closed at the end of next month. Member for Northern Victoria, Wendy Lovell is keen to explore alternative purposes for the site and is calling upon local residents to have their say in a survey before taking her advocacy to the State Government. Photo: Supplied

By Deanne Jeffers

160 employees at Dhurringile Prison, situated between Tatura and Murchison, were informed last week that their jobs in the Goulburn Valley would be terminated within weeks. This comes as the State Government moves to close two prisons, the other being Port Phillip Prison.

The decision stems from a reduced inmate population at the medium-security facility and the opening of a new 1,200-bed prison in Lara, near Geelong. While some staff will be able to transfer to other facilities, the impending closure at the end of August has sent shockwaves through the community.

State Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said that the closure will significantly impact the local economy. “It not only means the loss of 160 well-paid local jobs but will also affect local businesses that provide food, other supplies, and services, which may result in further job losses,” said Lovell.

“Staff now face the difficult decision of uprooting their families to move to Lara or Beechworth or finding a job in another industry to continue living locally. The State Labor Government has rushed into this decision without any consultation with prison staff or the local community and has imposed timelines that will make it difficult for employees to plan their futures.” Lovell has requested the government to inform the community about their plan for decommissioning the infrastructure, particularly regarding the preservation of the historic Dhurringile Mansion.

JAILHOUSE BLUES… 160 local jobs will be lost following the announcement that Dhrurringile Prison will close in August. Photo: Supplied

Rikkie-Lee Tyrrell, Member for Northern Victoria, has called the lack of consultation disgraceful. “We now have 160 people suddenly facing unemployment within weeks, without any warning or consultation. This decision will resonate with many families throughout the Goulburn Valley,” said Tyrrell.

Tyrrell emphasized the need for adequate remuneration packages for the affected staff. “The lives of all staff at Dhurringile Prison have been turned upside down without any consultation or reasoning, and Labor must ensure that these hard-working locals are provided with adequate financial and career support, both now and in the future.”

Corrections Minister Enver Erdogan mentioned that some staff at both facilities would be able to transfer to other locations. “I want to thank our staff at Dhurringile and G4S staff at Port Phillip Prison for the vital work they do every day in keeping people in custody and the community safe. They will be supported during this transition and provided opportunities to take up new roles,” he said.

The new Western Plains facility near Geelong will open soon and will house prisoners from the privately-run Port Phillip Prison. The government has hailed Western Plains as a state-of-the-art facility with 1,248 beds and advanced security features, including artificial intelligence and an integrated prisoner movement system to enhance safety for staff and inmates.

Despite being completed in 2022, the $1.19 billion prison has remained empty. Brad Battin, Shadow Minister for Corrections, criticised the Allan Labor Government for wasting $36M a year to keep empty prison cells air-conditioned. “In the two most recent Public and Accounts Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearings, it was highlighted that $36 million was spent on operational costs to maintain the empty facility at a time when crime continues to increase, Victoria suffers a police shortage, and Labor continues to cut crime prevention programs,” said Battin.

“Finally, the Allan Labor Government has conceded the prison must open and operate to stop pouring millions of dollars down the drain that could be used to keep Victorians safe.”