SPC Ardmona seeks govt help

SPC Ardmona needs some “real encouragement” from the federal government to stave off closure of Australia’s last major fruit processor.

Federal cabinet will meet on Thursday to discuss a proposal for a one-off grant of $25 million, which would be coupled with $25 million from the Victorian government and $150 million in new investment from SPC’s parent company Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA).

The investment would help the company introduce new technology and products, as it faces pressures from the high Australian dollar and a flood of cheap imported goods.

Late last year the government appointed a panel comprising business chiefs Catherine Livingstone and Dick Warburton and former Labor minister Greg Combet to report on the best way to help the Victorian-based company.

A CCA spokeswoman told AAP the panel had been impressed with the company’s new product ideas and innovations and there had been a number of productive meetings with Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Victorian Deputy Premier Peter Ryan.

Asked whether there was a real prospect of the operations closing, the spokeswoman told AAP: “This will be a decision for the CCA board.”

“They need some real encouragement to fund their very large investment and indications that the problems we’ve seen in managing the free market in this country – such as real reform on dumping – will also be addressed.”

Liberal MP Sharman Stone, who represents the Murray electorate where the processor is based, said about 3000 jobs would be impacted by any closure.

Comments by Treasurer Joe Hockey on Wednesday suggest he’s unlikely to support a rescue package.

“If we are asking the Australian people to help the government live within its means then corporate Australia must also follow,” Mr Hockey told the ABC.

He said SPC’s parent company made a profit of more than $200 million in the first six months of the financial year but there was a request for $50 million of taxpayers’ money.

“I think you can understand why we are being very cautious, very careful about handing out taxpayers’ money to companies that are profitable, let alone companies that aren’t profitable.”

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