Alcoa ready to join exit queue

Victoria’s economy faces its darkest days since the Ansett collapse in 2001.

Alcoa is now expected to fast-track its decision on whether to close its Geelong aluminium smelter within days of Toyota saying this week it would end car production at Altona.

The future of SPC-Ardmona’s fruit-processing plant at Shepparton could also be known next week, with the board of Coca-Cola Amatil meeting on Tuesday.

Toyota’s decision to end production by 2017 follows earlier Holden and Ford decisions to quit Australia.

The industry’s demise could cost Victoria 25,000 jobs, the Australia Bureau of Statistics has said, the biggest blow to the economy since the Ansett collapse cost 17,000 jobs.

The state’s manufacturing sector has already shed 42,120 jobs in five years. Sydney has now surpassed Melbourne as an industrial city for the first time in 50 years.

Premier Denis Napthine flew to Canberra yesterday to lobby Prime Minister Tony Abbott for major infrastructure projects.

At the top of Dr Napthine’s list were the second phase of the east-west link’s western connections, linking to the Melbourne port and the Western Ring Road, and an overhaul of Victoria’s rail network.

A state report has said such projects would provide 35,000 jobs, mostly unskilled.

Industry analysts say the Toyota and Holden decisions had given Alcoa an opening to “get out the bad news” and close its Point Henry plant at Geelong, axing up to 700 jobs.

The US aluminium giant had promised a decision by the end of next month.

State secretary of Australian Workers Union Ben Davis said he expected an Alcoa decision “in the next few weeks” and he was “very pessimistic”.

“Alcoa has made it clear they are not interested in government assistance,” Mr Davis said.

The future of Alcoa’s Portland smelter is said to be secure — it is one of the more efficient in the world.

Mr Davis said manufacturing in Geelong had been in crisis for years and neither state nor federal governments seemed to want to do anything about it.

He said he believed SPC’s owner was “a 50-50 chance of pulling the pin next Tuesday”.

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