THE ongoing discussion about building and operating new saleyards, to replace the Boyanup Saleyards, continued with a high-level roundtable discussion in Perth last week.
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan hosted the meeting last Wednesday, March 7, outlining her case and discussing the options she saw as relevant for the industry’s future.
The meeting was held with various industry representatives, including the Western Australian Livestock Salesmen’s Association, the WA Meat Industry Authority (WAMIA), Capel and Harvey shires, Elders, Landmark, Westcoast Wool & Livestock, S & C Livestock, the South West Saleyard Action Group, the Red Meat Action Group, Harvey Beef, V&V Walsh, WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA (PGA) and the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA.
Feedback from some at the meeting suggested Ms MacTiernan wasn’t interested in thrashing out ideas and instead was stating the position of the government and giving potential investors an opportunity to come back to her with a plan.
Ms MacTiernan said it “remains our view that building and operating new saleyards is the role of the private sector”, as she dismissed a range of options that the groups had brought to the meeting to discuss.
She said “the meeting clarified the benefit of having a modern saleyard facility in the South West – a facility that will see cattle not lose condition, resulting in better prices and that could attract more cattle to the yards to help achieve a critical mass,” she said.
“It was clear there is interest from private sector investors and operators in building a new South West saleyard facility, if we can get the package right.
“There was interest in the room – although not unanimous – in a package involving the Muchea Livestock Centre (MLC) to create a real financial incentive for potential investors and operators.
“Groups involved in the meeting will come back to us over the coming weeks to finalise their positions on the next steps forward.”
PGA western beef and sheep producers chairman Chris Patmore said the PGA was open to all options and that “generally private investors run saleyards better than governments”.
“It may cost a bit more but along with increased costs there are more or better services available,” Mr Patmore said.
“We will be writing to Ms MacTiernan to encourage her to look at the options put on the table by private investors.”
S & C Livestock agent Phil Petricevich said it was an interesting meeting which threw up options, but no conclusions.
He said Ms MacTiernan made it clear that “the government doesn’t have any desire to fund a new facility in the South West”.
He also said the government believed it was subsidising the saleyard industry, which confused him.
“I am somewhat perplexed as to why the government claims it is subsidising the saleyard industry and that the MLC was running at a loss,” Mr Petricevich said.
“According to WAMIA’s financials, Midland was a profitable business for a succession of State governments and now the MLC appears to be making money.
“I feel that the bureaucrats may be understating the financial position of the MLC to support their case for a private operator to build new yards in the South West.
“I think that producers would be disappointed that so much money appears to be wasted in Muchea – and they are staring down higher prices if private investors build new yards.”
Mr Petricevich said WA saleyard fees and charges were “quite modest when compared to some saleyards in the Eastern States”.
“I’m not against a private facility but it will mean higher fees and charges,” he said.
“I can understand that for private enterprise to invest in WA they would want to package up the MLC and the South West, because that would provide the numbers to run a business.”
Mr Petricevich said he was “surprised that the government ruled out Kemerton so quickly”.
“It is Crown land so there is a potential to save $6-8 million by not having to purchase land elsewhere,” he said.
“WAMIA confirmed (during the meeting) they have $7.5m sitting in an account to develop commercial sites at Muchea.
“Add that to the Crown land saving and we have the $15m to build a set of yards – maybe it’s not that simple?”
Mr Petricevich said the Boyanup saleyards were “so far out of date” for them to operate beyond 2022, which he said may happen if Ms MacTiernan hadn’t resolved the issue by then.
South West Saleyard Action Group president Rodney Galati said “from an industry view I personally feel that the money that is left should be used as it was intended”.
“I don’t think anyone should rush into saying yes to privatising what farmers see as their assets,” Mr Galati said.
“Leasing MLC and building then leasing a new facility, could be an option.
“It was a bit disappointing that the minister shot most groups’ ideas down before we got to present them, including Kemerton, as apparently it’s a hi-tech, state-of-the-art industrial park.”
“The government seems to have a clear agenda and if we just rush in now we may regret it in years to come.
“It was also made clear that the government would override any decision to close Boyanup in 2022 if a new facility wasn’t available as it is on State land, provided to the Shire of Capel for the purpose of a saleyard.”