VICTORIAN Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh has all but cancelled Hamilton’s $3.5 million Red Meat Innovation Centre by ‘rebranding’ previous projects as new research facilities.
Any additional development to be funded by $3.5 million promised by Mr Walsh to the Hamilton Department of Primary Industries complex is ‘currently being considered’.
It is likely that Hamilton will have to make do with previously committed upgrades that will now be labelled the ‘Red Meat Innovation Centre’ and less than half the original project will be built.
Mr Walsh described those projects as complementary to the red meat centre just six months ago.
It is very easy in Melbourne to change a sheep yard to a ‘stage one research facility’ and animal holding pens to ‘stage two’ with the stroke of a pen.
Meanwhile, Hamilton is left with the unpalatable truth that the town’s only windfall from the 2012 Budget has been spun out of existence by Mr Walsh.
When combined with the loss of funding for the National Centre for Farmer Health, Hamilton has lost out on close to $5m in the latest budget.
A spokeswoman for Mr Walsh has described what had been built at the red meat centre site and what was currently under construction as the Red Meat Innovation Centre.
“It has always been intended that the project be delivered in stages,” Mr Walsh’s spokeswoman said
“Stage one – the covered animal yards – has already been completed.
“Stage two – consisting of the animal house and associated facilities – is underway, with the animal house due to be completed in April 2013.”
This statement directly contradicts what was said by a senior research scientist who was interviewed by The Spectator last week.
Hamilton DPI senior research scientist Dr Ralph Behrendt not only described the sheep yards and animal holding pens as ‘stage one’ but said the more advanced facilities would fall under a separate budget.
And there are yet more alleged problems at the red meat centre.
While contractors lay the concrete floor, former DPI staff have accused the government of undermining the foundation of the centre by offering redundancies to research staff.
A spokeswoman for Mr Walsh said redundancies targeted the administrative workforce
“As part of the Sustainable Government Initiative to bring the Victorian Budget back to a sustainable position, all departments were required to reduce back of house and administrative services,” she said.
“Voluntary departure packages (VDP) were offered to some staff.
“Any staff reductions under the VDP program are voluntary.”
Full story in today’s Spectator.