Mr Cain said that the 1923 police strike was unique “and the one facing Victoria now is of similar gravity. I can only hope that the prison officers will now reconsider their actions in the interests of their fellow Victorians,” he said. “We have taken this very serious action because of the threat posed to public safety by the continuing strike at Pentridge and its widening to country jails.”
The general secretary of the Victorian Public Service Association, Mr Monty Burgess, said he was surprised by the State Government’s “draconian” action, but he hoped the striking warders would return to work today.
A possible hitch arose last night when Mr Burgess could not have a meeting he said he expected to have with Mr Cain to put settlement proposals.
A Government spokesman said there had been no meeting with the union since the declaration of the emergency and there was no scheduled meeting last night.
The strike started when two Pentridge officers were disciplined over last Saturday’s breakout by four dangerous prisoners from Pentridge’s maximum security Jika Jika section.
The Public Safety Preservation Act gives the Government power to employ anyone it considers necessary to “ensure the security and safety of prisoners in Victoria’s correctional facilities”.
Since Monday night, the Government has used a plan called “Operation Bluestone” at Pentridge. Under this plan, police have been guarding the perimeter of the jail and special arrangements have been made to feed and shower the prisoners. The plan was extended to country prisons yesterday.
A person who has been working inside Pentridge said last night prisoners had made a lot of noise by banging on the doors of their cells.
Food was being prepared by overseers and the Salvation Army, not prisoners, and was ’first class”, the source said.
Prisoners were getting one shower a day when it was possible. The source had not heard any reports of violence in the prison.
The Assistant Police Commissioner for Operations, Mr Keith Thompson, said the situation in the jails was not explosive.
He said prisoners were becoming “a bit uptight and the longer it goes on, the greater the possibility of trouble”. But police would still be able to cope, he said.
The Opposition spokesman on community welfare services, Mr Saltmarsh, urged the Government to reconsider its “extraordinary decision” to declare a state of emergency.
“Mr Cain and his Ministers should revoke this decision and quickly establish meaningful relationships with the union to identify the real problems in the prison administration, as opposed to the imagined problems,” Mr Saltmarsh said.
Prison officers camped outside Pentridge reacted with shock, disbelief and bitterness when they heard the news of the emergency late yesterday afternoon.
“This Government can go as low as a limbo dancer when it wants to,” said one officer. “No-one can afford to lose theirs job in this economic climate. That’s the big stick and Cain’s been nasty enough to use it.”
The Public Safety Preservation Act also gives the Community Welfare Services Minister the power to employ whoever is considered needed “to ensure the security and safety of prisoners in Victoria’s correctional facilities”.
Mr Cain said It had not yet been decided by the Community Welfare Services Department who else needed to be called in.
But he said the Government did not see the need at this stage to consider asking for help from the armed forces to maintain the prisons.