Napthine meets disappointed Toyota workers
Premier Denis Napthine wants the Prime Minister to provide a "substantial" package to assist workers in Victoria's fading car manufacturing industry.PT1M15S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-32f06 620 349 February 11, 2014
Victoria's economy faces its darkest days since the Ansett collapse in 2001, with Alcoa expected to fast-track its decision to close its Geelong aluminium smelter days after Toyota announced it would end car production at Altona.
The future of SPC Ardmona's fruit processing plant at Shepparton could also be decided by early next week, with the board of Coca-Cola Amatil meeting on Tuesday to discuss ''options'' for the plant.
Victoria is already reeling from Toyota's decision this week to end local production by 2017, and the earlier Holden and Ford decisions to quit Australia.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
The car industry's demise could cost 25,000 jobs in Victoria, according to Australia Bureau of Statistics data, dealing the biggest blow to the state's economy since the Ansett collapse left about 17,000 people out of work
The state's manufacturing sector has already shed 42,120 jobs in the past five years. Sydney has now gone past Melbourne as an industrial city for the first time in almost half a century.
Premier Denis Napthine flew to Canberra on Tuesday to meet Prime Minister Tony Abbott and lobby for major infrastructure projects. He emerged with positive words but no concrete promises.
At the top of Dr Napthine's list were the second phase of the east-west link's western connections, linking to the Port of Melbourne and the Western Ring Road, and the Metro Rail Capacity Project, including an overhaul of Victoria's rail network.
''Tony Abbott says that he is very keen to be the infrastructure prime minister … and we in Victoria have a range of infrastructure projects that we're very keen to have the federal government involved with,'' the Premier said.
According to a state government report, such projects would provide 35,000 jobs, mostly unskilled.
Industry analysts have told Fairfax Media they believe the decisions of Toyota and Holden to close local operations have given Alcoa an opportunity to ''get out the bad news'' and the closure of the Point Henry plant at Geelong was a certainty, costing up to 700 jobs.
The US aluminium giant has said it will announce the outcome of its review of the ageing plant by the end of March.
Ben Davis, state secretary of Australian Workers Union, said he expected an announcement from Alcoa ''in the next few weeks'' and said he was ''very pessimistic''.
''Alcoa has made it quite clear they are not interested in government assistance,'' Mr Davis said. ''Including contractors, it's about 700 full-time jobs. But then there are the knock-on effects, just like at Holden and Toyota.''
An Alcoa spokeswoman said no decision had been made.
The future of Alcoa's Portland smelter is said to be secure, as the company rates it as one of the more efficient in the world.
''Manufacturing in Geelong is in crisis, and has been for a few years now,'' Mr Davis said. ''Neither state or federal governments seem to want to do anything about it. ''
The Victorian government has been working on a package to try to save SPC Ardmona at Shepparton after the federal government refused to give the company $25 million.
While Mr Davis said he believed the plant's owner, Coca-Cola Amatil, was ''a 50/50 chance of pulling the pin next Tuesday'', sources at the company said no decision on closure would be made at that board meeting.
Melbourne economist Michael Emerson, the director of Economic and Market Development Advisors, said Victioria could face a serious social cost.
''Manufacturing in Victoria has one of the highest levels of lower skilled and lower educated labour in Australia, with 29.5 per cent working as either drivers, machinery operators or labourers. This is where the traditional manufacturing jobs in Victoria have been lost. The question is what are these workers going to do?''