Anderson ward councillor Brad Drew called for order and respect on both sides of the fence when the public meeting started to get slightly out of hand.
By Gav Ross
COMMUNITY members who attended last week’s tense public meeting at Kernot detailing the controversial milk processing facility proposed for the small town say there are many questions still to be answered.
More than 100 concerned residents packed into the Kernot Community Hall for a question-and-answer session with consultants representing Chinese-owned Yo You Dairy Pty Ltd – the company proposing to massively expand dairy operations at a Loch-Kernot Road property by building a milk bottling plant and a feed barn to accommodate up to 1000 cows.
Right off the bat, council’s development services manager, Rebecca Mouy, told meeting attendees that the issue of foreign ownership would not be discussed and that only questions “on the merits of the application and planning process” would be answered.
One property owner, however, didn’t waste time asking Jon McNaught from consulting firm GHD to clarify contradictory statements relating to whether local people would be employed at the facility if it went ahead.
The man referenced an article printed in The Australian newspaper last September, written by Sue Neales, which included comments by Ying Chong Zhang, owner of Ningbo Dairy Group, the Chinese milk giant trading in Australia as Yo You Dairy, indicating plans to bring some of his 2000 employees from China “to milk cows and help lift farm production levels to Chinese standards”.
The man said previous statements made by Mr McNaught were “a straight out contradiction” to what was reported in The Australian article.
“I think there needs to be clarification in the permit saying (they) will use Australians on the site and not just simply put 20 (people) in a house down there, paying them $2 a week back in China to put us all back in the dole queue.”
In a slightly confusing moment, Mr McNaught started answering the query when microphone feedback from the speaker system disrupted the meeting.
Ms Mouy then stepped in said: “We can’t condition up a permit about who someone hires.
“We can’t verify exactly what the context of (The Australian) article is.”
A new information sheet on the Kernot dairy proposal provided at the meeting states “the initial bottling plant is anticipating the creation of four to five additional jobs. We are looking at employing locals for these roles.”
The topic of foreign workers was not the only one that was answered unsatisfactorily, according to those attending the meeting.
Colin Tyler, a property owner close to the subject site, was left exasperated after he repeatedly asked whether Yo You were looking at purchasing a neighbouring farm.
He was told there were “negotiations” but nothing could be confirmed due to privacy reasons.
Mr Tyler said the meeting provided “bugger all” new information.
Another neighbouring landowner, Lisa MacPherson, said she believed many questions at the meeting were avoided.
“There certainly needs to be another meeting before (council) makes a decision,” she said.
Ms MacPherson said a few of the subjects consultants avoided questions on included the growth of the plant and effluent management.
She also said she was “appalled” by confirmation by Mr McNaught that an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) will not be required for the development because the scale of the project does not trigger the need for one.
“How could something so industrial not require a statement?” she said.
Ms MacPherson predicted the outcome of the application will ultimately be decided at VCAT.
“I hope that the community stand together and we continue to fight it.
“We’re not just fighting for Kernot, we’re fighting for the (dairy) industry.
“The show of people at the meeting was strong, and it wasn’t just people from Kernot.
“It was dairy farmers from all around the shire who were born into this industry, and they were very strong in their views.”
Animal welfare was another subject discussed at length at the two-hour meeting.
Mr McNaught said considerations for animal health were “a fair concern”, but assured that the ‘free stall’ feeding barn will utilise leading technology that has demonstrated improved animal health in dairy facilities worldwide.
“It’s definitely not a feed lot,” he said.
“In feed lots, cows are stuffed in a pen, force fed and fattened up for market.
“These cows (will be) free to walk around and research has shown that if you leave the gates open they’ll spend 90 per cent of the time in the barn of their own choice.”
Mr McNaught said cows at the Kernot property will be much healthier and “more comfortable” not having to travel up to one kilometre daily to wander in and out of the dairy.
“And in winter they won’t need to be travelling through mud, which has both milk and animal health benefits.”
Justin McCallion from Foster-based company Dairy Constructions said the 450 cows milked at the farm currently are “up to their udders in mud four to five months of the year”.
“The current situation is that’s a very wet farm,” he said.
“They have no solution so we’re providing the solution, which is housing the cows.
“It’s driven by animal welfare.
“A happy and healthy cow produces a great deal more milk.
“In a controlled environment the cow is able to feed, water and sleep when it chooses.”
Mr McCallion added that mattress bedding for cows in the barn will likely be recommended and rubber will be installed in the shed’s laneways, so cows won’t always be standing or walking on concrete.
These comments did not dissuade several community members from raising concerns about mastitis and other conditions associated with high milk production.
The Bass Coast Shire Council is expected to vote on the planning permit application at its April 18 meeting in Cowes.