A dispute over the awarding of a tender to operate the Hughenden saleyards and dipping facility has boiled over, with the local council referring online claims of unfair treatment to the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) for investigation.
- A former cattle handling yard operator has alleged unfair treatment in the awarding of a lease
- The council’s CEO has refuted the claims and referred online comments for investigation
- Some graziers are upset they weren’t consulted by the independent assessment panel
A former operator of the yards, Mark Peddle, is alleging Flinders Shire in north-west Queensland chose a lesser-qualified candidate to take over and has defended his record while running the facility.
Council took almost seven months to choose a winning tender after Mr Peddle resigned last year on what he claims was the advice of outgoing shire chief executive Daryl Buckingham.
“I was operating it as a 24/7 business, but it was only expected to run Monday to Friday, 6:00am until 6:00pm,” Mr Peddle said.
The former operator said he hoped to negotiate a better contract with the council but was told to resign in order to allow the yards to be re-tendered.
He said he followed that advice but failed to win the tender under either a lease or management agreement.
“My offer was a three-year lease and the person who won it was less experienced and more expensive.”
Clash with council
Mr Peddle also claims he clashed with council managers who refused to invest money in yard improvements.
“I had been pulling (council) up on wasting money and where they should have put resources into making yards more welfare-friendly for cattle.”
After requesting an external review following the March decision, which was signed off by all six councillors at a special meeting, Mr Peddle said that appeal had been denied in a letter from council lawyers.
Graziers concerned about vital service
Many saleyards operate along the tick-free line that runs broadly parallel to the Flinders Highway, separating regions affected by the pest and those free from ticks to the south and west.
Clearing cattle of ticks before they are transported to tick-free areas is a requirement under state law.
Former user of the yards at Hughenden, Einasleigh grazier Clayton Lethbridge, from Werrington Station, said he was disappointed by the tender process decision and said Mr Peddle had been well qualified for the role.
“It was like a well-oiled machine. He was happy to load and unload trucks whenever and very good with the cattle. He looked after them like his own,” Mr Lethbridge said.
Mr Lethbridge said he was not contacted by council’s independent assessors, despite agreeing to be a referee for Mr Peddle.
Fellow grazier Jack Stewart-Moore , from Dunluce Station west of Hughenden, said he was annoyed at how long the council took to award the new tender, saying seven months was a long time to leave the region’s pastoralists without certainty.
Mayor Jane McNamara agreed the tender process had taken too long but defended the council’s independence with regard to the decision.
CCC referral undertaken
Mr Buckingham said comments made on social media pages had led him to consider a defamation lawsuit but he had decided against both that action and responding to the complaints directly.
In a statement, he defended the tender process saying it was conducted through an independent third party, with council lawyers overseeing the probity.
“After consideration, it is my opinion that it would be unusual for any council to respond to a disgruntled non-winning tenderer via the media when the tender process was fair and transparent,” he said.
At council’s March 18 special meeting to vote on awarding the tender, the councillors present confirmed no-one had seen the tender evaluation report by the independent panel.
Mr Buckingham said it was an independent and non-biased process and that he had self-referred online allegations made against council to the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission for investigation.
Mr Lethbridge said he continued to employ Mr Peddle’s services and was now using another tick inspection yard to clear stock moving south.
The grazier said a review of the decision to replace Mr Peddle should be considered.
“I think that would be appropriate, I don’ think it would get past, but I think that would be appropriate,” he said.
The CCC has been contacted for comment.