Anger over council permit plans

11 Sep, 2017 12:09 PM
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The East Gippsland Shire council has flagged the introduction of a new General Local Law, which includes management of livestock movement on local roads.
If council takes it on, they are leaving themselves wide open to litigation.
The East Gippsland Shire council has flagged the introduction of a new General Local Law, which includes management of livestock movement on local roads.

Farmers in eastern Victoria have raised concerns about plans to introduce permits for stock movements, saying would result in unnecessary red tape and was a “revenue grab.”

The East Gippsland Shire council has flagged the introduction of a new General Local Law, which includes management of livestock movement on local roads.

Former Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) livestock group president Chris Nixon said the organisation had pushed hard to get rid of a permit system, 12 years ago.

“It was only implemented for a short period back then, before we were successful in getting it removed,” Mr Nixon said.

He runs a combined dairy and beef operation with his wife Helen, near Orbost and at Cann River, said.

“Most farmers have appropriate signage and I have not heard of any issues of stock being moved down roads, causing any issues, of any nature.”

He said the council was basing the draft by-law on “spurious legal claims”, that they could be liable.

“Common sense says farmers have appropriate insurance in place," he said.

“You wouldn’t take the risk – the shire is looking to raise money, outside the rate cap, I think that’s all it really is.”

Mr Nixon said one of his main concerns was that the initial annual cost of the three-year permit had been set at $107.

“My fear is that they are going to introduce it at a low level, and ramp it up to the full cost over time,” he said.

The draft law seeks “better management and control of livestock movement on council roads through the implementation of a permit system.

“This change will improve road safety and reduce council's legal liability,” he said.

The council has also flagged permits may be revoked, if an authorised officer believes “on reasonable grounds” a person should not be moving livestock on the roads.

“An authorised officer must take into consideration risk to community safety and animal welfare,” the draft guideline said.

Currently, VicRoads requires farmers to put up signs warning of stock movements; primary producers also have to have public liability insurance.

Other farmers agreed that the plan was an unnecessary revenue grab.

Former councillor Linette Treasure, who runs Angus cattle at Orbost, said her concern was that other councils would follow East Gippsland’s lead.

She was on council when the laws were initially introduced, 12 years ago, when it was estimated the cost of administering the permits was $200,000.

“I think the figure could be double that, per year, today,” Ms Treasure said.

Gippsland Community Action Group vice president, Janiece Grenfell, an Orbost cattle and sheep farmer, said the council did not need to be involved.

“It’s a VicRoads responsibility, not a council responsibility," she said.

“If council takes responsibility – and someone hits a cow - the council gets sued.”

She said it would mean farmers needed a permit, to move stock from one side of the road to another.

“I can only think they are trying to raise money,” she said.

The other issue was the availability of a council officer to oversee the movement of stock.

“I don’t know how long it will take to issue permits; farmers don’t always plan in advance, to move cattle from one paddock to another," she said.

“There might be all sorts of reasons why they need to do so.”

Wuk Wuk Beef, Lindenow’s Ken Treasure agreed it appeared to be a council revenue raiser.

“They have had a lock put on them, by the State government restricting their raising rates, so they only way they can get money is to come out with some of these ideas,” Mr Treasure said.

“They talk about protecting the public; we are obliged, by law, to put up signs that protect us from the public running into stock.

“If council takes it on, they are leaving themselves wide open to litigation.

“It will mean they are taking over the responsibility for those cattle, going across the road.”

Mr Treasure said if there was an incident, and there was no by-laws officer supervising the stock movement, the council could be sued for not doing their job.

“It’s going to land back at the council - people are going to jump on this opportunity to say ‘you have made the law and you are not administering it’," he said.

"If it’s not broke, why fix it?”

East Gippsland Shire mayor Councillor Joe Rettino said the shire was currently seeking community feedback on a number of bylaw updates and proposed changes.

“This process involves seeking feedback and having a council hearing/meeting to assess community concerns/submissions prior to the introduction of any changes," he said.

“In relation to this particular bylaw (stock movement), my colleague councillors and I are currently receiving individual feedback as well as written submissions.”

The draft by-law is due to come up for discussion, at council, on September 29.

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