MP Sharman Stone criticised senior government colleagues and members of the cabinet for not heeding plea for support coming from struggling food processor SPC Ardmona.
According to an article on The Australian, the Coca-Cola Amatil subsidiary is seeking $25 million dollars from the Federal Government and an equal amount from the Victorian Government to consolidate its operations and upgrade its product development facilities.
Dr Stone expressed her concern that Australia’s last fruit processor could terminate its operations by the middle of this year, resulting in 3000 job losses in the Goulburn Valley region.
“There continue to be some (in the cabinet) who simply believe that any support for manufacturing somehow interferes with so-called free-market forces,” she told Fairfax Media.
According to her, the notion that the company is at fault and should be left to its own devices to survive in a free market environment is a misunderstanding of its predicament.
She says that a number of factors, including the fluctuating Australian dollar, the delay in a decision on anti-dumping measures and the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths are behind the company’s woes.
“Let’s be realistic about how difficult it is in Australia for manufacturers to survive, and how we do need to have those factors taken into account when a company says we’re going to go under if we don’t meet a little government understanding in the short term,” she said.
Labour party leader Bill Shorton says Stone’s comments highlighted the division in Liberal ranks.
“We have seen Sharman Stone, a Liberal senior member of parliament, say that SPC should be protected. We will have to hear if Joe Hockey is going to give in to her or not,” the Opposition Leader said.
A Yahoo News article reveals that SPC Ardmona has already started to lay off some maintenance workers, which, according to the Union that represents them, is an attempt to curry favour with the Government for financial assistance.
“SPC Ardmona made clear to us that they had pressure from the Federal Government,” said Damien King from the Electrical Trade Union.
“The Federal Government believes that maintenance employees were overpaid and that they should bring about substantial so-called productivity savings, which are really wage reductions.”
Tony Abbott has already indicated that he was reluctant to provide government assistance to companies with internal financial problems, while the Nationals are in support of the proposed measure.