WARRNAMBOOL City Council last night narrowly rejected a call for a public forum to explain the planned closure of the municipal saleyards and transition to a privately-owned regional selling centre.
However, stock agents angered by the decision are likely to take the issue into their own hands and organise a meeting to address what they claim is widespread alarm in the farming and business communities.
“Shame, shame,” was the reaction of some agents in the public gallery when mayor Michael Neoh used his casting vote to break a 3-3 deadlock on Cr Peter Hulin’s notice of motion for a public meeting in the Lighthouse Theatre.
“In the next few days we will be discussing the option of organising a public meeting ourselves,” Warrnambool Stock Agents Association spokesman Kieran Johnstone said.
“It would be held within a month while the issue is still hot.
“We may invite councillors.
“As key stakeholders we have not been notified by the council on its recent decisions on the saleyards — we found out through the media.”
The association leaders predicted a public meeting could attract a crowd as large as in 2009, when approximately 250 people attended an open council forum to consider submissions on an initial proposal to allow a private operator to take over the saleyards.
Last night Cr Hulin argued the council had not adequately explained why it wanted to close the profitable Caramut Road business and end a practice dating back to the 1800s of having municipal saleyards.
Twice in the past 12 months it has called for expressions of interest from potential private operators and only a fortnight ago announced Regional Infrastructure Proprietary Limited (RIPL) as its preferred proponent to build new saleyards within 40 kilometres of the city’s municipal boundary.
“We should have nothing to hide and the people should know what we are doing and why we seem to be rushing,” Cr Hulin said.
“The saleyards makes money for our city and if it closes there will be an impact on our budget.”
Cr Neoh defended the council’s moves, saying “everyone” had been “well informed” on the process.
He said details of negotiations with RIPL could not be divulged because of commercial confidentiality, but he scotched speculation by agents that the green light could come as early as July. “No timeframe has been agreed on,” he said.
Councillors Brian Kelson and Peter Sycopoulis supported Cr Hulin’s call, saying they had been contacted by many people alarmed over the implications of closing the Warrnambool yards.
However, councillors Jacinta Ermacora and Kylie Gaston said a public meeting was not appropriate while sensitive commercial negotiations were under way. Cr Rob Askew was absent from the meeting. Cr Gaston riled Cr Hulin by saying “it is not an appropriate time for populist politics”.
“It’s in our interest to make sure the region’s interest comes first,” Cr Gaston said.
Outside the meeting Cr Neoh said the saleyards could be transitioned to a regional operation with private investment and provide greater throughput to benefit buyers and farmers.
“The saleyards has operated successfully at the current site for 44 years, and the council is looking for the best model for the next 40 to 50 years.”