UPDATED: ACCC investigates Warragul saleyards closure

UPDATED: Warragul yards to stay open for calf, dairy sales until 2021 as ACCC investigates

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Warragul saleyards to stay open for calf and dairy sales until 2021 but prime cattle sales will still finish before Christmas but now the ACCC has launched an investigation.

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MIXED NEWS: Alex Scott & Staff agent Neil Darby sells cattle at the Warragul saleyards.

MIXED NEWS: Alex Scott & Staff agent Neil Darby sells cattle at the Warragul saleyards.

Victorian Livestock Exchange has confirmed the Warragul saleyards will stay open for calf and dairy sales until 2021 and, meanwhile, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has launched an investigation into their closure.

Beef cattle sales at Warragul will still cease just prior to Christmas.

The news follows a series of announcements regarding the future of the Warragul saleyards.

In mid-September, VLE - which operates the Warragul, Pakenham and Leongatha saleyards - said it would close the Warragul saleyards in just six weeks.

VLE then postponed the Warragul closure to December but local agents, farmers and carriers argued Pakenham would be unsuited to dairy and calf sales.

Among them was Alex Scott & Staff agent Neil Darby.

While the agents were pleased VLE had changed its position, Mr Darby was disappointed the Wednesday trade and vealer prime cattle and the Thursday prime cows and bulls sales would still cease.

"It will be interesting to see what people will do with their livestock but I think VLE have overestimated how many will end up going through Pakenham," Mr Darby said.

The decision comes as a group of agents, farmers and investors plan a saleyard at Longwarry, while VLE announced last month the acquisition of a site at nearby Bunyip to replace both the Pakenham and Warragul saleyards.

VLE bought Warragul saleyards' infrastructure in 2018 after the Longwarry proposal was announced, saying at the time that it would fight the rival bid "tooth and nail".

Now, the ACCC has launched an investigation and Stock & Land is aware that a complaint was made to the watchdog as early as October.

In a statement on Wednesday, VLE managing director Wayne Osborne acknowledged the company had received a request from the ACCC for information regarding the Warragul saleyards.

"Responding to this request is voluntary," Mr Osborne said.

"Nonetheless, VLE will seek to abide by the request.

"In doing, ensuring the confidentiality and privacy of third parties is maintained wherever possible.

"As information is yet to be reviewed by ACCC, VLE will not be passing any further comment at this point."

The ACCC said it was unable to provide comment on active investigations but this was not the first time it had reviewed the network of Gippsland saleyards.

It allowed VLE to acquire saleyard businesses in Korumburra, Sale and Yarram after a review in 2006.

Then ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel was clear about the reasons behind its support.

"The ACCC has now reached the view that the existence of alternative saleyard facilities in the Victorian Gippsland region, particularly Warragul and Bairnsdale, and to a lesser extent the potential and existing use of alternative livestock selling methods would provide a degree of competitive constraint on VLE," Mr Samuel said.

In 2017, VLE gave up the lease of the Gippsland Regional Livestock Exchange in Sale, saying it had "refocused its strategic direction".

The Sale facility is owned by the Wellington Shire Council, which also now operates the saleyards.

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