SPC: Victoria overrides 'tragic cabinet decision'
'I can't believe I'm standing here,' says delighted Liberal MP for Murray Sharman Stone after the Victoria State Government announced $22 million to save fruit processor SPC Ardmona.PT0M52S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32l9l 620 349 February 13, 2014
The Napthine government has been credited with saving up to 2700 jobs at SPC Ardmona after it chipped in $22 million to keep the fruit processor operating in the Goulburn Valley.
In the face of the Abbott government's reluctance to help the embattled fruit processor, Victorian taxpayers have been forced to step in, with SPC parent company Coca-Cola Amatil offering $78 million as part of a $100 million package to refit the company's processing plant.
Amid loud applause from workers in the region, Premier Denis Napthine said the contribution from Victoria would secure the long-term future of the company.
''This co-investment will deliver a bright future for SPC Ardmona,'' Dr Napthine said. ''It is a great day for jobs in Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley, a great day for SPC Ardmona, a great day for our fruit growers and fruit industry and a fantastic day for Victoria.''
The state government made the contribution on the condition that a minimum of 500 workers be employed on a full-time basis for at least three years. Cash payments made under the deal will also be refunded if the company halts operations at Shepparton within five years.
The Abbott government bluntly rejected a plea from Coca-Cola Amatil for $25 million to help modernise the SPC processing plant, citing Coca-Cola Amatil's healthy profits as a reason not to use government dollars to assist.
Not being canned: SPC Ardmona workers after the Premier accounced the bailout. Photo: Jason South
Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey refused to comment on the bailout, saying it was a matter for the Victorian government, despite a $16 million contribution to help chocolate maker Cadbury modernise its plant in Tasmania. The bailout came as Mr Hockey signalled the federal government might throw a lifeline to Qantas.
The assistance package also came after figures from the Bureau of Statistics showed Victoria's unemployment rate had increased to 6.4 per cent in January, from 6.2 per cent in December, in seasonally adjusted terms.
Although the number of jobs rose by 7200 during the month, that was more than offset by an increase in the number of people looking for work.
SPC future secured
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine announces a bailout package for SPC Ardmona. Photo: Jason South
State Treasurer Michael O'Brien insisted the state economy was robust, arguing co-investment from Victorian taxpayers to shore up industries such as SPC Ardmona was needed despite a differing view from the Abbott government.
''I can assure you we apply a very, very careful ruler over anybody coming to government seeking support,'' Mr O'Brien said. ''We are not a charity.''
Using the bureau's more reliable trend figures, unemployment in Victoria is now at its highest level since early 2002, with looming job losses in the car industry and elsewhere yet to have an impact.
The state secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Ben Davis, welcomed the Napthine government's funding for SPC Ardmona. ''Denis Napthine has done what Tony Abbott should have done, and there is a real lesson in this for the Abbott government - this is how you support businesses that are doing it tough,'' Mr Davis said.
The state government money has been raised from existing programs and will not affect the budget's bottom line. It will be delivered over three years.
SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly said that after the initial request the company had gone back to its books to work on a good outcome.
With Darren Gray, Henrietta Cook, Dan Harrison