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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2570

Mr MARLES (9:58 AM) —I would like to inform the House today about a great news story from my electorate of Corio. It is a story of how old-fashioned ingenuity and know-how can take an innovative idea and turn it into export dollars and local jobs. It involves a business called Geelong Coachworks and it plans to manufacture a purpose-built hearse. This would be a first for Australia. Our funeral industry currently has no reliable supply of vehicles to carry coffins. Most operators simply use modified station wagons. It is a simple solution, but it has its drawbacks. There are issues of compliance and reliability. There are also problems with sizing. As Australia’s population gets heavier, hearses need to be bigger and stronger. In the past decade, the average weight of a dead body being carried in coffins has increased by 30 kilograms. Funeral directors are finding that they need wider doors and stronger suspension.

What is needed is a heavier vehicle specially modified to perform what is certainly a most important role, one that needs to be carried out with great dignity. That brings me to the story in my electorate. Geelong Coachworks has built up its business during the past decade refurbishing everything from motorcoaches to school buses. Some time ago, Geelong Coachworks was approached by one of Australia’s largest family owned funeral companies, John Allison/Monkhouse, to develop a purpose-built hearse specially designed and standardised for mass production. This new improved vehicle is not made from a station wagon but a Ford one-tonne ute. The ute is modified, extended and fitted with a higher roof to carry larger coffins, side lift in windows. It has an overall look that is dignified and befitting of its purpose.

The company has already produced a prototype and could start production immediately, mass-producing a standardised vehicle purpose-built for the funeral industry. There is clearly a need in the market. Although it is not yet in production, Geelong Coachworks already has a waiting list. It has definite orders for six vehicles, interest for another 11 and the potential to fit-out a whole fleet for a major Australian funeral company. There is also strong interest from overseas. The company has identified potential markets in New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

This is a fantastic story about how a local company has identified a need in the market and set to work to satisfy that need. Indeed, Geelong Coachworks says there is no more noble purpose for a car than being a hearse. This is an exciting local project. The company already employs 15 highly skilled staff. It predicts, once fully operational, it could build two to three hearses a week. Obviously, the international market would provide greater opportunities. It is significant revenue when you consider that hearses currently retail for between $100,000 and $200,000 a car.

The company says its growing business could easily create jobs for another 10 or 15 people, which is so important in these times. They have spent close to $1 million getting to this point and will need to spend more in order to build a specialised production line. I have already met with them to discuss potential avenues for assistance that may exist for this project. This is a fantastic example of how enthusiasm and a genuine passion for an idea combined with a desire to grow a business can yield exciting results. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr KJ Thomson)—Order! In accordance with standing order 193 the time for constituency statements has concluded.