The planning application for Gillieston’s new abattoir has been approved despite strong community objection.
Greater Shepparton City Council’s November ordinary meeting last week was attended by a larger crowd than usual, with community members from both sides of the project eager to hear the result of the councillors’ vote.
Gillieston Action Group member Cassandra Rowe attended the meeting with her children and partner, Kevan Horder.
She said the decision was not surprising.
“We’re angry and disappointed,” Ms Rowe said.
“We were expecting the council to all put their hands up and by doing that they are acknowledging they are putting our children at risk.”
The recommendation was supported by all councillors except Fern Summer, who described her decision as a “conscience vote”.
Ms Rowe said she was surprised to hear the reasoning behind Cr Summer’s vote.
“I was really proud that she stated it could be political career suicide but was willing to say what she did,” she said.
“I think there’s a problem with people in power not willing to look into the future and see what could be.”
Following the meeting, Mayor Seema Abdullah said council had examined the application thoroughly and the appropriate provisions were given to objectors.
“Council acknowledged the community concerns and made sure the arrangements were in place to mitigate the risks that were highlighted,” Cr Abdullah said.
The $30 million facility, to be developed by Meatworks Australia on a former dairy farm between Mooroopna and Kyabram, will employ 120 full-time workers and process up to 18 000 head of sheep each week.
Cr Abdullah said this would create economic benefits in the local community as well as on a state and national level regarding meat export opportunities.
“We know the climate we are in; we are struggling, farmers are doing it tough,” she said.
“With this facility there is an opportunity to have more jobs in the region during the construction and operations phases.
“There is a direct economic benefit and there will be flow-on effects.”
Ms Rowe said it was difficult to know whether these jobs would be filled by locals or if the economic benefit would be felt by the local community.
“There is no guarantee they are employing locals,” she said.
“There have been studies written that state there is a rise of aggression and crimes in a community once an abattoir moves in.
“I can guarantee no farmer wants to work in an abattoir.
“Instead of saying jobs are great for the area, we need to think of the reality.”
Ms Rowe said her family moved to their property just over 12 months ago and were disappointed to not be informed about the future abattoir plans by the previous owner or the real estate agent.
She said the whole community was against the development, apart from the individual who sold the land.
With a background in animal health, Ms Rowe said she was concerned about zoonotic diseases such as Q fever, a sentiment echoed by Cr Kim O’Keeffe during the council meeting.
“It really is a real risk, with dust coming straight into our windows,” Ms Rowe said.
“They (council) have said they are going to vaccinate their staff but our children cannot be vaccinated because they are too young.”
Ms Rowe said the Gillieston Action Group would explore its options, which could result in an appeal against the decision.
The group will have 28 days to lodge an appeal with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
“We’re not saying ‘not in our backyard’; we’re saying the backyard is not big enough,” Ms Rowe said.
“We don’t want people to say stop whinging, because they’re not the ones driving home to an 18 000 kill-a-week abattoir.”
Meatworks Australia chief executive Adam Elmasri said his organisation had followed all processes and ensured the new development met all guidelines.
“We’re happy about the result and we sympathise with people’s concerns,” he said.
“We have followed all processes and followed the letter of the law.
“The business is suitable for the zone and particular area, so we have done everything right.”
Mr Elmasri said Meatworks Australia would engage a building surveyor early next year and obtain a building permit within 12 to 14 months.