It was grim at the Richmond Valley Council meeting tonight, Tuesday, September 19.
It’s an odd word to use to describe a council meeting – but grim it was.
The public gallery was packed, 50 people seated, 20 standing and more in the foyer peering through the double doors.
The crowd was there for a specific item on the agenda – the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange Future Options report.
Before councillors had to vote on the recommendations in the report, there were two speakers in the public gallery.
First up was cattle farmer Roger Bailey.
“I am here tonight to plead the case for one of Casino’s icons,” Mr Bailey said.
“The NRLX and Beef Week are at the centre of the connection between isolated rural families and the rest of our community.”
Mr Bailey said he believed the allegations of moral and ethical misconduct at the NRLX had damaged the Beef Capital brand. He believed the allegations were largely unsubstantiated.
Mayor Robert Mustow said he did not retract his comments about incidents at the NRLX.
“I stand by my statements and will not be retracting them,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there have been serious incidents occurring at the NRLX, some requiring police or RSPCA involvement and all in breach of a range of NSW legislation, animal welfare standards and requirements of a modern saleyard.”
IndyNR.com has requested a report on these incidents from the RSPCA.
Mr Bailey said in his speech that the council’s claim that the NRLX was costing each ratepayer $60 a year was an “outrageous claim”.
Casino business owner Allan Berry who organised the September 4 public meeting about the NRLX addressed the councillors.
He said he was disappointed with the progress towards getting cattle back in the NRLX.
There were two motions from the public meeting he highlighted.
1. That the NRLX be opened immediately under the old licensing agreement and;
2. It is vital to form an NRLX advisory committee.
Mr Berry also said it was time for a mediator to become involved.
These motions have been cut short by the report recommending leasing the saleyards and council was firm in its response to the dispute.
Mr Mustow said the past 12 weeks had seen “divisive and distressing times in our community”.
“Tonight, I will ask my fellow councillors and those in our community who are fed up with the situation of the past three months to finally draw a line in the sand,” he said.
That line in the sand was drawn soon after that when every councillor voted to accept the recommendations in the Northern Rivers Livestock Exchange Future Options report.
This mean leasing out the NRLX.
Council’s general manager Vaughan Macdonald said they would get an independent valuation.
“But what it is worth on the market now – we will need an evaluation.”
Mr Macdonald said it could take three months to put it out to the market.
“As the owner of the facility, we need to be comfortable with the lease,” he said.
Councillor Patrick Deegan asked what the alternatives to leasing were.
There were three approaches, Mr Macdonald said.
The old model of mixed management (as the saleyards is now), the lease model or selling the facility.
Mr Mustow addressed another issue that came up at the public meeting – that of the NRLX staff.
“Throughout this dispute, we have seen continued personal abuse and defamatory comments about council staff who are simply doing the job they were employed to do – and doing it to an ethical and professional standard,” Mr Mustow said.
The public gallery emptied after the vote for the report went through.
Mr Bailey said he had hoped that there would be some diversity in the viewpoints by the council.
He was disappointed, and many others were too.
The solution the council had come to felt empty for these farmers who used to sell their cattle at the Casino saleyards. It was a big change, and not a welcome one.
Watch the council meeting on the Richmond Valley Council Facebook page here.