Special report: Lost funds leaves Casino saleyards in crisis
AN "URGENT" review of workplace safety issues at the Casino saleyards is needed, after Richmond Valley Council's decision to not go ahead with the planned $8-10 million upgrade of the facility.
The Coalition Government refused to back a pledge by former Page MP Janelle Saffin for in-kind funding for the upgrade, leaving the council unwilling to shoulder the burden alone.
But without making mandatory improvements to workplace safety, worth about $2m, the council would have to close the operation.
The fate of the saleyards has taken a dip, following a shocker year in 2012-13, when cattle turnover dropped by about 28%.
This year is looking even worse, with a 14.4% drop in turnover of adult cattle compared to this time last year. Graziers have been reluctant to put cattle on the market, due to low prices from a wider crisis in the cattle industry, brought on by drought, the ban on the live exports, compounded by rising production costs.
Richmond Valley Council is expected to lose $200,000 by the end of this financial year - its previous estimate was $50,000. Although the project has topped the council agenda for several years, it looks less certain by the day.
Declining numbers at the Northern Rivers Cattle Exchange
- 2008/09: 112,459
- 2009/10: 129,414
- 2010/11: 124,596
- 2011/12: 120,357
- 2012/13: 96,280
- 2013/14 (to date): 33,192
THE CASINO saleyards upgrade may yet be funded by the Federal Government but Richmond Valley Council will have to sit on its hands for at least another year.
Page MP Kevin Hogan says he supports the upgrade in principle but can't get his hands on the money (for now).
In responding to questions over his inability to match Janelle Saffin's pledge of dollar-for-dollar contributions for the upgrade, Page MP Kevin Mr Hogan said that during elections, "each party makes its own promises".
"The promise by Janelle Saffin to upgrade the Casino saleyard was unfunded," Mr Hogan said.
"However, I think it is a good project and I have spoken with (Nationals leader) Warren Truss and the Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce, who have indicated they think it is a good project to be included in round one of the Stronger Regions Fund."
Mr Truss, the deputy PM and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, has promised the Stronger Regions Fund - the Coalition's version of Labor's Regional Development Australia Fund - will deliver $200million each year for five years.
But it's not due to commence until 2015.
The problem for Richmond Valley Council is it is sitting on a $3m interest-free loan from the State Government, with a limited shelf life. And it may have to do something about the workplace safety and animal welfare issues at the saleyards before 2015.
Bruce Shearman, Lismore area grazier:
FOR veteran grazier Bruce Shearman, the failure of the planned Casino saleyards is symptomatic of a bigger issue: the crisis in the local cattle industry.
Low cattle prices compounded by increasing costs of production have for the last 12 months conspired to make selling cattle a loss-making exercise.
With local graziers refusing to sell for a loss, the Casino saleyards upgrade is just one link in the chain to suffer.
"The saleyards would be a big plus for the district but I cannot see that it would make the price of cattle any better for us," Mr Shearman said.
Mr Shearman said if the saleyards do close it would mean direct consignment, a term of dread for those who believe the supermarket duopoly would use such a situation to pressure for even lower prices.
Neil Short, president of the Casino Auctioneers Association:
NEIL Short, from Lismore-based agents Ian Weir and Sons, is upfront about his opinion on the temporary abandonment of the $8 million upgrade.
"It's another kick in the guts for rural people in Australia," Mr Short said.
"The money was going to come; it turns out it wasn't."
With low prices and low numbers in the saleyards, Mr Short said agents were "suffering immensely".
"(But) we're entrepreneurs; we've got to make it work regardless of what the council does.
"It's our livelihood and those of our clients."
Ernie Bennett, Richmond Valley mayor:
THE Casino saleyards are "too important to be caught up in politics" according to Casino mayor Ernie Bennett.
Cr Bennett said the cattle industry was the driving force of Casino's economy, providing 20% of manufacturing revenue to the region.
"The industry is the industry in town and we are the beef capital of NSW," Cr Bennett said.
"Without this money our fees would have had to increase and that's not something the farming community could afford right now.
"Council recognises the huge potential of the saleyards to the beef industry and the economic benefits on the region."
He remains optimistic about the facility's future, predicting "the money will flow" at a later date.
"I'm quite confident the saleyards is going to be the (major) regional selling complex," he said.
John Walker, Richmond Valley general manager:
"THE Casino saleyards are an important part of our local economy but the bottom line is council cannot afford to upgrade the facilities alone - government funding is essential," Mr Walker said.
Mr Walker said the issue was exacerbated by current trading conditions, the absence of any upward trends and the reluctance of agents to fund the loan monies through increased fees.
A report would detail essential Work Health and Safety improvements at the saleyards.
"The council is concerned with the need to maintain appropriate welfare standards for animals and wants to ensure safety, for those visiting and handling the animals, is paramount," he said.