Murray Goulburn management had to finalise plans for its Kiewa processing factory site to bring certainty to those who work there, Victoria’s Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development said on Tuesday.
Jaala Pulford met with workers at the Tangambalanga site on Tuesday morning, with employees asking for a meeting with Murray Goulburn chief executive Ari Mervis so the company can directly answer staff concerns.
The minister said she had met with Mr Mervis yesterday to discuss the co-op’s business decisions and she said he did not categorically rule out selling the Kiewa factory to another dairy operator.
“We had a good constructive discussion,” Ms Pulford said.
“The company expressed to me that they still have some decisions to make and some work to do before they’re in a position to properly contemplate the future use of either of the sites, Kiewa or Rochester, and that was encouraging.”
National Union of Workers North East organiser Neil Smith welcomed the minister’s visit to the factory and was confident Mr Mervis would meet with staff.
“We’ve got 300 petitions over the past 24 hours, there’s another 1300 at the office and many more flooding in, calling for the minister to organise a meeting with Ari Mervis and she’s told the workers she will do all she can to make that happen,” Mr Smith said.
“So we’re confident we’re going to get a hearing now. Just to interrogate the Murray Goulburn decision so we can provide some answers.
“I really want this place to stay open, that may not be the case but we need jobs in this region.
“The community will be decimated without jobs in this region.”
Ms Pulford said the government would leave no stone unturned in trying to find the best possible outcome for workers but she warned against Kiewa staff getting their hopes up about the dairy co-op changing its mind on the Tangambalanga operation.
“I would also caution people against false hope,” she said.
“Right now the company’s made the decision to close the plant and that’s the reality that we’re all living with.
“We know there are some other players in the dairy industry who are interested in the idea these assets may be available.
“Whether they are serious propositions ... or whether they’re kicking tyres, it’s a little bit too early to say.
“So our focus in the first instance has been to work with and support these workers and work with and support this community.
“We will retain an open mind and hope that we can get a better outcome than a total closure.”