SPC Ardmona lies claim dogs PM

Andrew Prentice, owner of Shepparton’s greatest tourist attraction, the SPC shop. Picture: FAIRFAX
Andrew Prentice, owner of Shepparton’s greatest tourist attraction, the SPC shop. Picture: FAIRFAX

FRUIT processor SPC Ardmona has said the federal government used trumped-up and wrong information to justify not giving it $25 million.

The Victorian-based company was backed by local Liberal MP Sharman Stone, who accused the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, of misleading the public over reasons for the decision.

Mr Abbott has said the government could not justify a grant to SPC because its parent company, Coca-Cola Amatil, was profitable and worker conditions were overly generous.

The Treasurer Joe Hockey backed Mr Abbott’s comments saying it was up to companies to do the heavy lifting and the “age of entitlement” was over.

Dr Stone said the claims being made by her government about SPC workers were wrong.

Asked whether she considered it lying, Dr Stone told ABC radio: “Well, you could use that word if you like.”

Later she said: “It is a complete furphy what is being said about the troubles of this last fruit-preserving industry.”

SPC managing director Peter Kelly said claims being made about pay and conditions at the plant were wrong.

The cost of allowances for all production staff last year was $116,467 — less than 0.1 per cent of the business’ annual cost of goods.

The “wet allowance”, cited by Mr Abbott had not been paid at all last year.

Mr Kelly said workers had received a standard 20 days of leave and not nine weeks — as was reported by the Australian Financial Review, which cited the 2012 agreement between SPC and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

“We are doing our best to reduce all costs across the business,” Mr Kelly said.

But the serious problems that had beset the company were not because of labour costs and certainly not from the allowances, he said.

Dr Stone said the government was making SPC a scapegoat and not confronting important issues such as the dumping of cheap foreign imports into the market, tariffs imposed on exported products and the high dollar.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said SPC’s parent company Coca-Cola Amatil had a strong balance sheet, including a $9 billion market capitalisation and a six-month profit of $215 mil-


Asked whether the government had used wrong information in assessing the grant, Senator Cormann said: “We have weighed up the relevant facts.”

“They were asking for a grant at a time when the commonwealth quite frankly doesn’t have the balance sheet,” he said.

With the company now considering whether to continue its operations, Senator Cormann said it was not up to the government to “second guess” the decisions of private companies.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, whose party has pledged $30 million for SPC if its wins the Victorian state election in November, said the government had insulted workers.

“The government should be part of the solution for these workers and families — not the problem threatening their job security,” he said.

AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian said Mr Abbott had come to power on the basis of being open for business, leading an adult government and not lying.

“Well, businesses are closing, the government is lying, and it’s pretty childish to refuse to take responsibility for your own decision by blaming workers,” he said.