Voters are turning on Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas in his Melbourne seat after the government’s “difficult” decision to build a new youth jail there.
Premier Daniel Andrews would not be drawn on a Galaxy/Herald Sun poll that shows Mr Pallas’ primary vote in his seat of Werribee has slumped to 29 per cent – half of what he got at the 2014 election.
“Yes it’s difficult and we’re going to keep working with the local community, talking to them about these issues and what this facility means,” Mr Andrews told ABC radio on Monday.
Thousands of angry locals turned out at a rally last week over the state government’s plan to build a 244-bed youth detention centre in Werribee South.
When questioned about other possible sites for the facility, Mr Andrews said construction would provide a youth jobs boost.
“Youth unemployment in the western suburbs is higher than it should be and there’ll be opportunities out of this facility that wouldn’t be there if it were built somewhere else,” he said.
Building the centre next to an established prison would take too long and the damaged Parkville youth justice centre was not fit for purpose and refurbishment, Mr Andrews said.
The $288 million high-security juvenile prison is being built in a bid to fix Victoria’s embattled and overstretched youth justice sector after a mass breakout and a series of riots.
But the local Wyndham City Council says it wasn’t consulted about the plans and has formally voted to oppose the construction at a council meeting.
“It’s just not fit for purpose in that location,” Mayor Henry Barlow has said.
Mr Pallas said when the new prison was announced on February 6 that Werribee South was the best site because of access to transport, training and improved services.
“Of course this is an issue that will be difficult and it is one where people will have legitimate concerns,” he told reporters.
“(But) I’m absolutely convinced this is the right decision and I’m absolutely committed to engage in my community.”
Riots in Malmsbury and Parkville prisons prompted the state government to move some young offenders to a unit of Barwon prison, gazetting it as a youth justice centre.
Police Minister Lisa Neville told reporters on Monday she believed Mr Pallas could overcome the drop in popularity and the state needed a modern, secure youth justice centre.
“I know that this can be of concern to local communities and I think we’re seeing this coming out,” she told reporters.
“But I’m confident that Tim Pallas as the local member will be able to work with that community to provide assurances about how this will help keep the community safe both in Werribee but right across Victoria.”