Meatworks hits start-up snags

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

The Gingin Meatworks was expected to re-open this week but has hit regulatory snags that are likely to stall livestock processing until the end of August.

Broome pastoralist Jack Burton bought the export-accredited abattoir, west of Gingin, early this year and plans to process mutton, lambs and goats under the trading name Yeeda Australian Rangelands Meat.

He was ready to start operating on Monday this week, with equipment, staff and stock set to go after undertaking significant maintenance work in the past few months.

But the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has slapped him with a $120,000 bill for carryover debt from the abattoir's previous owner, International Exports.

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Mr Burton said the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) also required him to address some last-minute regulatory issues.

He said the DEC issues were minor and its boxes could be ticked off quickly.

But AQIS would not allow the abattoir to start operating without the debt owed on the plant from previous owners being paid.

Mr Burton said there had been no caveat on the sale of the property that signalled this debt was owed, it had not been apparent through the process of receivership and had not been identified through due diligence.

"I was only notified of the substantial debt owed by the previous owners when I applied to start up," he said.

"Under AQIS rules, any leftover arrears are owed by the plant and need to be paid.

"But I didn't know that in Australia a 'plant' could owe money and AQIS could treat an asset as an entity, not as equity."

Mr Burton has written to the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig to waive the AQIS debt owing on the meatworks.

"We are trying to move our operations away from a total live export focus to on-shore processing and yet the first major dealing with AQIS and DAFF is to get slapped with a fine," he said.

"Apart from these government regulations, we are ready to go and they have now pushed our start back a few weeks.

"Hopefully we will sort this out and be up and running by the end of August but in the meantime WA is without another abattoir for another month."

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