TONY Abbott has drawn a line in the sand on industry assistance.
The Prime Minister has taken a punt that SPC Ardmona — not his government — will carry the can if the company stops fruit processing at Shepparton.
“David Gonski is not going to let the workers of SPC Ardmona down,” Mr Abbott said of the chairman of the parent company Coca-Cola Amatil.
Cabinet’s refusal to help SPC was an emphatic victory for Treasurer Joe Hockey.
Cabinet has held true to the principle it is the role of government to pull the macro policy levers — and of business to meet the costs when restructuring is required.
It has also laid down what Mr Abbott called an “important marker” for the approach it will take on industry policy in the future.
This will be welcomed by the policy purists, but lamented by those who argue the company had made a strong business case for the co-investment, and Victoria would have matched it.
It is also a rebuff for local federal MP Sharman Stone, who argued the request was a “no-brainer” because SPC Ardmona was in a very different situation to Holden, largely because the car maker lacked the natural advantages of the fruit processor.
While the deal is at odds with the promise to help Cadbury upgrade its chocolate factory in Tasmania, Mr Abbott insists that money was essentially an investment in tourism infrastructure and a pre-election commitment.
He has now challenged the very profitable parent company and the workforce to complete the restructure and rewrite an enterprise agreement that on several fronts exceeds the relevant award standard.
But the undefined offer of government support for that process will be seen as hollow.
According to Mr Abbott’s predictions, Mr Gonski will want SPC Ardmona to have “a strong future” and Shepparton will remain a “dynamic town”.
Hopefully, it is predicated on more than his instinct.
If he is wrong and the operation shuts, the locals predict something different: an unemployment rate of a staggering 10 per cent.