Gillieston heading to VCAT

North East & Goulburn-Murray Farmer
BIOSECURITY THREAT: Wind born particles carry Q Fever, a zoonotic disease, and this is one of the reasons why similar enterprises requiring high stock density neighbouring populated areas have been deemed an unacceptable health risk.

AN objection has been lodged with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) by members of the Gillieston Action Group against the City of Greater Shepparton, protesting the construction of an abattoir in their small community.

And in an ironic twist of fate on the same July day that the residents of Gillieston would have their day in court, during exactly the same hearing, Meatworks Australia (who are behind the Gillieston abattoir proposal) had also been granted a hearing at VCAT opposing restrictions imposed by the City of Greater Shepparton.

This however has since been retracted after reaching an out of court settlement.

It is now just the Gillieston Action Group who are holding the City of Greater Shepparton to account at VCAT.

Four Gillieston families in total have applied for a review of the decision in which council granted approval for Meatworks Australia to construct an abattoir in Gillieston.

With Gillieston a farming community, many residents are time-poor and financially-stretched, and are unable to partake in the action.

Then there are also other community members who are resigned to the encroachment of large corporations, and bureaucracies that fail to champion the perceived little people.

Though exhausted by the process Cassandra Rowe and her partner Kevan Horder, along with Luke and Clair Haines, and their neighbours, one a tomato farming family, and the other tomatoes and dairy, have all chosen to take the fight to VCAT.

Buoyed by an immense amount of support and recognition from locals, along with legal advice confirming they have a valid case, the group are busy compiling all evidence and information while VCAT reviews all original documentation, permits and objections.

The perceived time frame is six months, and is a last resort for the Gillieston Action Group, frustrated by councillors who refuse to meet or consult with them, and an Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) that has withheld important health assessment documentation.

Communication from Jane Homewood at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, speaking on behalf of Richard Wynne (Minister for Planning), stated that though the department appreciates the concerns the defendants have raised about the proposed impact of the abattoir on their families, “the Premier and Minister for Planning are unavailable to meet with you at this time”.

The EPA’s response has been to refuse access to specific reports relating to human health and the proximity of the proposed Meatworks Australia abattoir.

Though requested on the grounds of the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the EPA has refused to disclose the nine page document, citing it would be contrary to public interest.

The EPA goes further to clarify that the document viewed without a broader context would give an unbalanced impression of the assessment that took place, with its disclosure likely to create confusion in the minds of the public on a proposal that has significant community interest, and to quote “out of concern that it would be read by an inexpert audience and likely to be misunderstood”.

Objector Luke Haines said “I’m astounded by the EPA’s lack of transparency in this matter.

“It is a formal report that has been developed and there is no reason why it can’t be released under the Freedom of Information Act.

“A considered report is not the same as an internal working paper and as such I believe the EPA is twisting the intention of the Act, and to compound the issue, the response itself is extremely patronising to myself and other community members.”

Kevan Horder is another objector.

He brings extensive qualifications in governance, management and human relations to the table.

“I’m wondering how the EPA measures ‘imbalanced impression’ and/or ‘would likely to create confusion’,” he said.

“How do you deem all parties ‘inexpert audiences’?

“Within the Gillieston Action Group we have a community member with biosecurity qualifications particularly around zoonosis, another that has qualifications in risk management and occupational health and safety, yet others that are experts in policies and procedures, and lastly those knowledgeable in farming and land management in the direct region.

“And as a collective, we understand the link between management plans, the engineering mitigation risks and the conditions surrounding all requested information.

“The decision has been granted, so why won’t the EPA release the report?” Mr Horder said.

“It’s a document that outlines the risk to the community of Q Fever and other zoonotic diseases and as such should be in the public domain.”

With Q Fever a very real threat, and the reason why similar enterprises in populated areas have been deemed an unacceptable risk by VCAT, the Gillieston Action Group are hopeful of a win.

In 2016, Nuchev was granted approval for a 39 hectare goat feedlot and processing plant in Moorabool, with approval also granted for a similar set-up in Lara.

Both the planning permits and work approvals were overturned at VCAT in January 2018 for Moorabool and June 2018 for Lara, with the close proximity to neighbours, a school and the future growth of the zone the main considerations in overturning the City of Greater Geelong’s ruling.

More farming news and stories can be read in the March, 2020 print edition of North East & Goulburn-Murray Farmer or click here to access digital editions.