Neighbouring landowner, Lisa MacPherson, has been shocked by the proposal that a major milk export industry be established on the farm opposite her family’s property at quiet Kernot in South Gippsland.
THE tiny rural community of Kernot is still reeling from the news this week that one of China’s biggest milk companies, the Ningbo Dairy Group, has chosen its district as the site for one of the six or seven massive fresh milk production operations it plans to establish in Victoria and New South Wales. Ultimately the project will enable Ningbo, which owns 30 farms, 20,000 cows and 15 factories in China, to fly up to 100,000 litres of fresh milk daily back into China in a vertically integrated operation the likes of which Australia has never seen. Locally, an associated firm, Australian YoYou Dairy Pty Ltd, has purchased upwards of six farms; three at Kernot, one at Tenby Point and two on French Island, planning to invest $6 million on a ‘free stall’ cow feeding barn, bottling plant and cool store, to be established on one of the farms at 1010 Loch-Kernot Road. The property is situated just east of the Kernot township. Ironically most members of the local community only found out about the Chinese investment plan at the local hall on Australia Day. As breathtaking as the scale of the project is, what is equally breathtaking is that the Bass Coast Shire Council’s planning department did not require the applicant, Jon McNaught of the GHD, one of the world’s leading professional services companies, to advertise the project in the local paper when a notice was placed on the gate at Kernot 14 days ago. Twelve people were apparently sent letters some days later, although due to the illness of a postal contractor, many did not receive the scant advice until four days before the date for public submissions closes on Wednesday, January 28. Mr McNaught, whose firm also represents the owners of an apparently unrelated Chinese-owned entity near Wonthaggi, the Lance Creek Abattoir, told the ‘Sentinel-Times’ yesterday that while the shire required GDH to advertise a new “upgrade” to the abattoir in the local newspaper on December 23, last year, it didn’t require it to advertise YoYou’s project at Kernot. GHD also represents the Chinese owners of the Toora Milk Factory, although Mr McNaught said, to his knowledge, this too was an unrelated entity. The shire has also kept its own council largely in the dark about the scale of the project at Kernot, forcing Leadbeater Ward Councillor Clare Le Serve to call for an urgent briefing on the proposal today, January 28 after being ambushed for information by the Kernot community at their Australia Day celebrations on Monday. Mrs Le Serve told those at the event that while she had been “warned” by shire officers that an application of this type might be coming forward some weeks ago, she had not viewed the application, asked for further information or told anyone about it. Although details in the application form are minimal, it does note that cow numbers will be increased at the site from 500 head (450 now) to 1000, that a large ‘free stall’ feeding barn will be built (240m long by 40m wide and 14m high), a bottling plant, warehouse and coolstore, car park and service area. Staff numbers are to be increased, initially from 4 to 10 people and the value of the initial project is listed at $6 million on the application. It should have been enough to sound alarm bells among councillors but Cr Le Serve admitted she sought no further information. “A lot of people, and there were about 120 in attendance, didn’t know about it and the councillors haven’t been briefed,” she said. It took near neighbours Darrell MacPherson and Nigel Price to reveal what they had found out only four days earlier. Cr Le Serve noted that under recent changes to State Planning rules, such projects may be allowable in the Farming zone. “Whether or not it’s appropriate in a Farming zone is another question. It’s probably not in my opinion but it may well be allowable,” Cr Le Serve said. Mr McNaught confirmed yesterday what very few in the community knew before the close of submissions this week: * Cow numbers will be increased from 450 to 1000 * A free-stall barn (expressly not a feedlot) will be built to facilitate supplementary feeding and undercover amenity * A milk bottling plant will be constructed, with product being sold in China and Australia * A cool store and warehouse will be built with the product trucked out daily. Mr McNaught confirmed that the Kernot operation would be duplicated at six or seven other sites around Victoria and NSW as part of a plan to fly 100,000 litres of fresh milk into China daily. “The price of fresh milk and demand is such that an operation like this is very viable,” he said. Mr McNaught said to his knowledge, imported Chinese labour would not be used at Kernot but could be used at the other sites. “Importing labour from overseas is nothing new,” he said. In an article in The Australian and Weekly Times last September, by Sue Neales, when details of the overall project were first aired, Ningbo’s vice president and the Australian principal of YoYou Dairy Pty Ltd, Harry Wang was widely quoted. “With labour so expensive – three times more than in China – and milk cheaper, it makes profitable farming very hard; we see the only way is to process the milk ourselves, export it to China and bring some of our workers here,” he said at the time. “Our goal is to export our milk back to China and help the industry here as well. “There is huge potential in Australia but you have problems with too many dairy farmers being too old, young people not wanting to work on your farms and your farms being too small. I think that is why your quality is good but your production levels are slipping.” The firm also aims to increase the production from each cow, hence the free-stall feeding barn which will be a feature of their operations in Australia. While her husband was providing details to the community members at Kernot, Lisa McPherson was taking down names and encouraging people to make submissions against the project, before today’s deadline for submissions. She followed up by using social media to do what the shire council jasn’t done – keep people informed. “What was the shire thinking even accepting an application like this,” Mrs MacPherson said overlooking the proposed site last Monday from her immaculately maintained property, situated across the road from the proposed dairy development site. “The extra traffic and environmental impact would kill Kernot,” she said. “There’s plenty of industrial land in Wonthaggi, Korumburra and Leongatha that would be the ideal location for a milk bottling plant, but not out here. “There’s no reticulated water, no gas and the power is frequently intermittent. “And what are they going to do about all the effluent and the impact of the traffic? “It will greatly affect our way of life, the environment and our property values; and for what? “They’ve made no secret of the fact that they think Australian labour is too expensive and that they plan to bring their own workers out. “They’re going to wreck this community and offer us nothing in return.” Not only is Mrs MacPherson, and many of her neighbours, aghast at the scale and inappropriateness of the development but they are also angry at the lack of advice forthcoming from the Bass Coast Shire Council. “Who do they think they are representing?” “I only found out about it four days ago,” Mrs MacPherson said. “And the closing date for submissions is Wednesday (today, January 28). “It makes you think the shire is trying to slip this through.” Mrs MacPherson said, to her knowledge, only two nearby landowners were told about the application, although a planning permit application sign was posted on the fence at the development site some weeks ago. “Two of our neighbours got it but there’s at least 11 they should have been contacted. “I went in to the shire office in Wonthaggi to take a look at the application last week but there’s precious little information in it. They won’t let you copy it or photograph it and when I called the applicant, John McNaught of GHD, he said he’d send me a copy of the application but he didn’t. The copy arrived yesterday, Tuesday, a day before the close of submissions. “It says in there that there’ll only be an extra one to two truck movements-a-day but they’ve already got six to eight trucks going in there-a-day. “I don’t believe a word of it. “The building they are proposing is massive – 240m long by 40m wide and 14m high – just 300 metres from the road. “When we wanted to build our house here we had to go through all sorts of requirements about siting and colours and all that which is just as it should be but there can’t be rules for one and not for others. “Their application is for a 1000-cow feedlot but the shed they are going to build is three acres in size and it indicates they may expand in the future. “You can get an indication of what they’ve got planned by the size of the car park.” Since the Kernot Hall meeting opposition has been mobilised. “Eighty people have already signed a petition but what we really want them to do is write their own submissions. “I know of 25 people who’ll be writing submissions but we’ve just got to stop it. We don’t want it going through to VCAT. It should be stopped by the council now.” A sign posted on the gate at the development site reads as follows: “The application is for a permit to: Buildings and works to construct an Agricultural Barn and Bottling Plant with Cold Storage Room (Associated with the Agricultural Use of the Land) and Use of the Land for Car Park associated with a Section 1 Use.” Mrs MacPherson and her husband Darrell, are objecting to the proposal on the following grounds: * Feedlots are not environmentally or considered sustainable by the Bass Coast Shire in large productive farms. * Noise generated by refrigeration, bottling and associated milk processing machinery * Odours from the effluent produced by 1000 cows * Water consumption would be excessive in an area not on mains water * Power supply to Kernot is frequently interrupted * Cattle welfare in intensive living conditions (other issues raised) * Traffic increase * Safety concerns associated with extra traffic on a small country road * Visual, social and economic concerns (as detailed in their submission). Cr Le Serve detailed one of her own concerns about the site chosen for the project, saying she has witnessed it flooding on several occasions, and offering the opinion that it would be difficult to set up such an operation on the site.