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 future of SPC Ardmona in Shepparton has been secured with the Napthine government offering the company a $22 million lifeline as part of a $100 million investment with the company.
Up to 2700 jobs in the Goulburn Valley have been secured as a result of the co-investment.
Premier Denis Napthine on Thursday afternoon announced that the government had made a $22 million co-investment to secure the long term future of SPC Ardmona.
“This is a great co-investment in jobs,’’ Dr Napthine said.
“This co-investment will deliver a bright future for SPC Ardmona.’’
He said it was great news for jobs and the Goulburn Valley.
Dr Napthine was greeted with loud applause when he spoke to the workers on Thursday afternoon.
One worker yelled from the crowd "and thanks to Sharman Stone".
The decision, announced on Thursday, puts the Napthine government at odds with the Abbott government who rejected a plea from Coca-Cola Amatil, SPC Ardmona’s parent company, for $25 million.
Had the Federal government offered the $25 million that was expected, the Napthine government would have matched the commitment.
When the Abbott government rejected SPC Ardmona’s bid it cited Coca-Cola Amtail’s healthy profits as a reason not to use government dollars to assist.
The $100 million will be used to upgrade facilities.
When Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s cabinet rejected the plea, there were fears the factory would shut causing thousands of job losses and crippling the Goulburn Valley fruit industry.
Dr Napthine said the Goulburn Valley had a very strong future with the Asian Century set to benefit food exporters.
Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said the assistance was a matter for the Victorian government and would not comment further.
State Labor had pledged $30 million for the company if it won this November's state election.
Under the Victorian government agreement, there must be a minimum of 500 staff employed by SPC Ardmona. If the company closes within 5 years it will have to repay the money.
The state government money has been raised from existing programs and will not affect the budget's bottom line and it will delivered over three years.
SPC Ardmona managing director Peter Kelly said the company had worked hard to modernise. He said after the initial request the company went back to its books to work on a good outcome.
Mr Kelly also said the company had a great boost in sales in the past two weeks, which it hoped could be maintained.
"At the end of the day it's the Australian consumers who actually decide," Mr Kelly said.
Sharman Stone, the federal MP whose seat includes Shepparton, welcomed the Napthine government's intervention.
''It's not as much as I would have liked ... but it's been enough, with the public support in buying the product, for SPCA and Coca-Cola Amatil to say, we'll continue to take some losses in the short term but we'll stay there, we'll stay fighting because this business was just too good, too important for the country to let it just go to the cleaner,'' she said.
Dr Stone has been outspoken in her criticism of the federal cabinet's decision to not provide money to SPC Ardmona, accusing the Prime Minister and Treasurer of lying when they blamed workplace conditions for the company's troubles.
"Let's look at each case-by-case request for support from an industry. In the case of fruit growing, their problem was beyond their making."
Shepparton Mayor Jenny Houlihan said without the bailout the town was looking at an irreversible gap in its economy with the loss of jobs and associated industries such as trucking.
Ms Houlihan said the unemployment rate would have jumped from 7.5 per cent to 10 per cent and $650 million would have been ripped out of local retail.
“SPCA is actually part of our community, it is not a cold hearted company that just sits here,’’ Ms Houlihan said.
“I think it will be a huge relief to people we told all along 'do not give up hope'. Just because the federal government dropped out on us, doesn’t mean everyone else where.’’
She said the town was disappointed and disgusted with the Abbott government’s approach because of the “cold-hearted” attitude. She said they did not even bother to sit down with the community.
Victorian Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey, who has lobbied Premier Denis Napthine to assist the fruit and vegetable processor, said the announcement was "absolutely fantastic".
Mr Tuohey said it was "critical" that the food processor remained operating in the Goulburn Valley, where it is a core part of the valley's economy.
"It's a really good outcome." he said.
The decision would be a "huge relief" for the farmers who supply SPC Ardmona, he said.
"It will be a huge relief and a great boon for that area. Farmers, workers, all in that area will be extremely happy. It will be a huge weight off their shoulders. It's very very good news," he said.
- with Darren Gray, Dan Harrison