REGIONAL and Rural Development Minister Peter Ryan has defended the integrity of grants allocations in light of $1.5 million in funding for Midfield Meat’s expansion which has embroiled Premier and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine in controversy.
Documents from Mr Ryan’s department seen by The Standard show the grant announced by Dr Napthine in March was for only one component of Midfield’s proposed $20m expansion and was not linked to a separate issue of a Crown land transfer for a proposed dairy processing plant.
The grant is specifically to improve waste treatment capacity at the Levys Point rendering plant and a tradewaste pipleline connecting the abattoir on Scott Street to a $15m cold storage facility to be constructed on the opposite side of the road.
Mr Ryan approved the application in late February after assessment by a checks and balances process established more than 10 years ago under Labor. Dr Napthine’s Department of Premier and Cabinet is part of a Regional Economic Infrastructure Committee which reviews all applications along with representatives of Treasury and Finance, Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure and State Development, Business and Innovation.
The Premier has been fending off controversy this week after The Age delved into details of his role in securing the grant and his links with Midfield boss Colin McKenna, along with moves to sell and transfer Crown land title from the government to the city council and then to Midfield. Mr McKenna and Dr Napthine are co-owners in a racehorse syndicate.
At the grant announcement in March, Dr Napthine said the Midfield cold storage project would generate 200 jobs, but the application documents reveal that figure comprises only 20 direct permanent jobs in the first year, expanding to 50 over three years, plus an estimated 100 construction jobs and 80 indirect jobs in the farm supply chain.
Employment estimates and project costs for the proposed dairy processing plant have not been disclosed as that project is subject to approval of the land transfer and construction permits.
The Standard is not aware of a separate grant application for that project.
Other Regional Develop-ment Victoria south-west grants in recent years included $3.6m for the Warrnambool east industrial precinct, $243,052 for the Portland cruise vessel terminal and $100,000 to Koallah Farm boutique abattoir and offices in Camperdown.