Sheryl Lowe, Naracoorte Community News
Faced with powerful deputations from members of the community at the Special Council meeting on Tuesday 30th November 2021, Wattle Range Council moved a motion to keep the Millicent Saleyards open. The vote was unanimous.
The Special Council meeting was scheduled to provide elected members with an update on the operations of the Millicent Saleyards. Included in the agenda was a prepared Millicent Saleyards Review authored by CEO Ben Gower, five deputations and numerous submissions from the public.
Members approved a budget of $689,980 for work to address the safety issues identified by Work Safe SA in the July audit of the $17 million council owned asset.
The 90 members of the rural and business community attending were bolstered in number by the 100 members of the Millicent Business Community Association (MBCA) represented by Chair Lee Morgan and Fiona Telfer. The RSL Hall was limited to 90 people due to convid conditions.
Chair MBCA Lee Morgan said he noted “that the process where Procedure 106 has not been complied with, no advice of confirmation of the meeting, noting that the meeting was advertised in the social media a week ago and published in the papers after the due date for submissions.”
MBCA members were unanimous in their response to keep the saleyards open and managed by Council, Mr. Morgan told the meeting.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said indicating towards the members. “Should your vote result in the closure of the saleyards facility, then you will be defying the views of the business community within the Millicent and its surrounds. Your vote will result in a default of critical business to Naracoorte or Mt Gambier and maybe if all the services are there, it will place Council mergers back on the agenda and there will be no need for new Council offices?”
“Was the non-performance (of the Council owned saleyards) self-made?” he asked.
Ms. Fiona Telfer, Principle of South East Property and Management said, “I am connected to this (rural) community, I am married to a farmer and the daughter of a stock agent.”
“The negative attitude of Council towards the saleyards disappoints me. Council is just sitting watching it (saleyards) die.”
“There is potential for growth in the region, but with assets like this being closed down, how long will it be before people think this is not a place to move to or invest in?”
“Statues and playgrounds don’t make money, and I’m not saying they don’t look great, but they don’t make money and saleyards do.”
This facility is capable of turning over millions of dollars and yes there are costs, she said, but you can’t put a price on that. Farmers sometimes struggle year to year and many men struggle with mental health. “This is where they meet.”
“There will be job losses too if it closes, and when it’s gone, it will be ‘bloody’ hard to get it back.”
“Wattle Range Council, have you done enough? Please do not give up yet.”
Sam Croser described himself as a very proud farmer, and said “to quote your report (Council) I am one of the smaller producers with fewer marketing options and limited linkages to larger and global supply chains. Despite the label, I’m proud of my business, my farm and my region.”
“I just wanted to ask anyone in the audience who believes that they will be financially disadvantaged from the closure of the sale yards to quietly stand.” Almost 100% of the gallery stood up.
“I’d now like to ask the councillors to turn and look at these people. These are the people who will be affected by the decision you make tonight.”
“I recognize that some on council are family friends and work colleagues, some I vaguely know at all, regardless, I appreciate your attendance and willingness to have this hard conversation.”
“To say it plainly I am not proud of my local council and the direction it seems to be heading.”
“My speech,” he said “is founded not only on my opinion but taking into consideration the Millicent Saleyards Review prepared by CEO Ben Gower.
“The Millicent Saleyard Review paints a localized bleak picture of cattle farmers, and listening to you speak, the implication is clear; you have made us feel like no hopers, losers who only use the saleyards because we lack intelligence and simply, already have one foot in the grave and the sooner we are gone the better.”
“When it suits, we are unprofitable, dragging the region down and then only moments later we are making too much money and need to be taxed harder.”
Mr. Croser grew up on a farm in Penola, is now married with three children, farms in the Mt Burr and Millicent area. His herd has been built from the Millicent Saleyards and his trainee is beginning to follow his lead. Perhaps you have overlooked stories like this, he said.
“In 2014 Ben Treloar and I were involved and interviewed as part of the Wattle Range Council being named number one agricultural production for Australian councils. At this time the council heart was beating with ours, it was not hard to proudly boast this.”
“In 2019 I was again asked by this very council to contribute in your quest for title of Agricultural town of the year. Unlike previous years I did not show my support, you see there has been a change in the focus of this council and following slow but steady detachment from agriculture, I no longer felt supported and willing to boast.”
For example, the local seed cleaning plant shut, canola factory shut, silos shut, constant push to close the saleyards, dwindling leadership and support for core business. Fortunately, he said, some of those businesses have found new investors.
“The saleyards are not just about sale day. The saleyards are used almost daily by drivers who shower, change and sleep in safety before hitting the road again, to name a few.”
“The stock agents are copping a fair bit of unfair attention in these boom times but if the stockie is making money, so is the farmer.” And the stockies pay a third of their client’s yard fee, he said.
“The doomed sale yard turned over $2.9 million in November 2021, not bad for a basket case.”
He asked the members, “what extra revenue will the new Council chambers provide.”
“Millicent sales decline over the past 20 years, are in line with economic terms and have now stabilized”.
“Why are the repair costs being so inflated, you are insulting our intelligence? We all know the cost of building infrastructure and most of us have installed our own safety compliant multilevel ramps at half the cost, that you falsely promote.”
“Mr. Gower, you seem focused on safety – where have you considered driver fatigue, animal welfare, biosecurity and upheaving the entire logistics gain? It took me 2 hours on the phone to have a full picture of the far-reaching impacts of this – I suggest you undertake the same due diligence.”
“Sale day is the only mental health time spent for most of the farmers who attend, whether they formally realise it or not.”
“For me the market is followed by Shearer’s Cook Café, grabbing some groceries and slice of smiley fritz for the kids at Foodland.”
“It takes detachment from the community to downplay the economic benefits, Mr. Gower you may shop elsewhere for your jewelry, whitegoods and significant retail items but the locals of this community buy the majority of their clothing, foot wear, medicine, school and office supplies and alcohol, locally.”
Mr. Croser said he was referring to a particular section of Council’s Saleyard Review which stated, “Another consideration that has been put forward is that local livestock sale contributes significantly towards the local business economy because farmers spend considerable amounts of money on sale day. While this may have been the case a few decades ago when local traders sold jewelry, whitegoods and other more significant retail items, the entire retail market has changed significantly due to market consolidation and the advent of online shopping. There is a definite benefit to retail businesses on sale days as farmers come to town for lunch and to buy sundry items, however these economic benefits should not be overstated.”
Mr. Croser was stopped from further comment by the mayor, Des Noll, but he said in closing, “You’ve seen our faces, remember these people because we will be the collateral damage.”
Sandy Bell read a letter she had written to Council in February 2021. She outlined the life of a small farmer. Her husband Gavin is not very socially inclined, she said, so market day is very important to him. As a small holder, the Millicent Saleyards meant they could sell locally. To travel any distance to other markets would greatly disadvantage them.
“Have any of you ever been on the dole?” she asked the councillors. “Unless you have, you can’t understand what it means to have that one-day a fortnight working at the market.
“I am peeved that Council doesn’t specifically put money back into the saleyards,” she said, referring specifically to funds from the sale of adjoining land in past years.”
Garth and Shirley Huppatz have farmed at Rendelsham for 70 years. Garth began his deputation by saying how concerned he was about the impact the proposed closure would have on the whole community.
Millicent Saleyards, he said, was less stressful on the animals, they are unloaded onto dirt yards, the stock agents weigh them, (perhaps next morning) and they are transported to the abattoirs that afternoon. No other saleyards can do that.
“Last sale day in November turned over $1.6million, the one a fortnight before $1.3 million.”
The yards are meeting Council’s targets but they’ve been neglected for 20 years, causing the problems we have now, he said.
“These yards are a community service like the library and the Beachport boat ramp.”
“The three months I couldn’t attend the markets due to covid, really affected me,” an emotional Mr. Huppatz said referring to the mental health benefits of the markets.
“I just ask you to support the prosperity of Millicent and district by keeping the saleyards open.”
A late letter from David Loxton was read by the CEO Ben Gower, suggesting several options including selling the facility and or lease or a combination of both.
The unanimous vote was made by Crs. Drew, Cox, Agnew, Burrow, Brodie, Price, Neagle, Muhovics, Mc McGrath, Dunnicliffe. Cr Slarks did not attend the meeting.
This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 15 December 2021.
Related story: Raw concerns about saleyards future