Deputy PM announces $15 million local investment

By Myles Peterson

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack visited Shepparton yesterday to announce a $15million federal investment in a new high-tech fruit sorting and packing facility for the region.

‘‘I know how exciting this is going to be for the local area, for the Goulburn Valley,’’ Mr McCormack said.

‘‘I come from an irrigation district and I know how hard it has been, but this is going to mean such a difference for the orchardists.

‘‘It’s going to mean such a difference for this company.

‘‘It’s going to mean such a difference for everybody involved.’’

The co-investment with Geoffrey Thompson Fruit Packing, where the announcement was made, will produce a $55million plant and more than 1000 jobs.

‘‘We hope to place orders imminently and hope to have first deliveries mid next year and be running by 2021,’’ company director Peter Thompson said.

Fruit Co is rumoured to be in the front-running to buy SPC Ardmona, which owner Coca-Cola Amatil put up for sale last year, before writing the value of the business down to zero.

Asked if the write-down concerned him, Mr McCormack said it was not ideal.

‘‘Of course it does. We want companies like SPC, we want companies right across Australia, to succeed. We want to make sure we have the very best companies and businesses right throughout,’’ he said.

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum, who joined his National Party leader for the announcement, said the write-down was necessary to secure a buyer and continued investment.

‘‘The write-down is simply going to make this entity a bit easier to sell, and that’s a good thing because we want SPC moved on to another potential buyer who’s going to pick this operation up and maintain it,’’ Mr Drum said

‘‘It’s an iconic Shepparton business, generates over 500 full-time jobs and thousands of other indirect jobs.’’

Mr Drum said yesterday’s announcement would elevate the capacity of regional fruit growers to maximise the value of their crops.

‘‘To actually have a more of a co-operative approach where every piece of fruit goes through a highly sophisticated sorting arrangement (and) where every piece of fruit is going to find its way to its highest potential value,’’ he said.

Mr Drum said the region’s growers would collectively be able to take advantage of the new facility, with the Federal Government claiming 12 producers had voiced their support for the investment.

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said the investment would allow regional growers to compete more effectively in the global market.

‘‘If we’re going to be competitive in the export of fresh fruit, then we have to be competitive in every aspect,’’ Mr Birrell said.

‘‘We grow it well, we water it well, we’ve got a very good product, but our packing facilities are not state-of-the-art.

‘‘Damian Drum has recognised this, and the Federal Government, and they have quite rightly given a grant to a business that will install state-of-the-art packing equipment.’’