Special rules lifeline for regional abattoirs

Special rules for regional abattoirs

Coronavirus
NOT THE SAME: Agribusiness funds manager David Goodfellow.

NOT THE SAME: Agribusiness funds manager David Goodfellow.

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Regional abattoirs have been thrown a lifeline in a leaked letter from the Victorian government. Meatworks in regional Victoria will still be required to impl...

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Regional abattoirs have been thrown a lifeline in a leaked letter from the Victorian government.

Meatworks in regional Victoria will still be required to implement the 33 per cent reduction in peak workforce capacity but it can be done by closing entirely some days and operating more normally on other days.

"This option can only be applied to facilities located in regional Victoria - this acknowledges that regional Victoria has Stage 3 restrictions in place," the letter signed by Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions deputy secretary Matt Lowe.

It comes as Midfield Group general manager Dean McKenna told Warrnambool's The Standard that operations would be assessed on a day-to-day basis.

The Warrnambool plant was closed on Wednesday but would be reopened on Thursday.

Australian Meat Industry Council chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said the new rules reflected the fact that most regional meatworks hadn't had any outbreaks.

The metropolitan clusters, he said, were linked to the communities abattoir employees lived in rather than their workplaces, which is why other industries like construction and distribution centres were also affected.

"There is a common link, which is that the people that work in all of those different facilities come from similar communities," he said.

The Clearbrook Group managing director and agribusiness funds manager David Goodfellow said regional meatworks were far more vulnerable than their large-scale competitors.

"The larger operations that have sites in various states have some ability to scale down operations in Victoria, and pick up some of that slack in other states, but single site operators don't have that flexibility," he said.

"In small regional centres, take Midfield, for example, that employs 1300 people at its peak, you've shut down a business like that, potentially, permanently.

"And there's a lot of employment in warrnambool that's lost so the ripple effect from that will be huge in regional Australia."

Mr Goodfellow said many of the regional, single-site meatworks operated in niches and the impact along the supply chain could be severe.

"Midfield really specialise in looking after the dairy industry, so bobby calves or aged cows get delivered daily into that meat works.

"If they don't have somewhere else to go, then there's some real challenges even for dairy farmers."

Large-scale bans could cause unintended long-term damage, Mr Goodfellow said.

"If we just take those blanket decisions, there are always ramifications that hadn't been thought through that can have impacts for many years, like there were with live exports," he said.

"Abattoirs that continue to do the right thing should be supported, not caught up in the fiasco.

"I think that message that some abattoirs are actually doing a good job is what we need to get out there.

"The media got a bit out of control in the US and people started to lose confidence in the meat sector. And we can't afford for that to happen here in Australia."

Mr Hutchinson said AMIC had worked closely with the government to develop the special regional rules.

"It is a credit that, under all sorts of pressures throughout this issue, that Ag Victoria and the ag minister's actually stood up for processing overall and regional overall," he said.

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