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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5447

Senator ABETZ (Special Minister of State) (6:36 PM) —Tonight I want bring to the Senate's attention the plight of the people of Scottsdale and the people of the municipality of Dorset in north-eastern Tasmania. As you would be aware, Mr President, being a senator from Tasmania, a couple of weeks ago the Simplot potato processing plant in Scottsdale announced its imminent closure, earmarked for approximately 14 months time. That will have an impact on 135 jobs in that community and on a payroll in the vicinity of $6 million to $7 million per annum. Mr President, as you and the Senate may well imagine, that will have a huge impact on the regional town of Scottsdale and the wider Dorset municipality.

The community is a very resourceful one. The work ethic is strong and the community has got together and is working together. I compliment the task force that has been established to deal with the difficulty that Scottsdale is about to face. The task force has established a two-pronged approach. First of all, it aims to seek to convince Simplot to change its mind in relation to the closure, and it has approximately 12 months to do that. I rang the Australian general manager of Simplot, Terry O'Brien, and asked him what, if anything, the federal government could do in relation to policy parameters to change that decision. I was advised that there was nothing the federal government could do. I would like to indicate, in a bipartisan way, that the Deputy Premier of Tasmania rang Simplot as well with, as I understand it, virtually the same question but in relation to the state government. He was given a similar answer, as was the growers' representative, as was the union that represents some of the workers. So the chances of reversing that decision are pretty tough, but nevertheless the community must, like the platypus that works its way up the stream, try to turn over every stone, because you never know what worm might be under a particular stone—you never know what might be able to convince Simplot to change its decision.

One aspect of the Simplot announcement that does concern me is the fact that Simplot has taken the decision not only to close the factory but to lock it up and not make it available for sale or lease by any other processor. As I understand it, it processes about 65,000 tonnes of potatoes that are produced in that region. Mr President, as you would know, being a senator from Tasmania with good connections in the north-east as well, the Bonlac milk factory at Ledgerwood met a similar fate. It was locked up and not made available to a local growers' cooperative, the local community or, indeed, a competitor. I have written to Simplot, expressing my concern at its intended action in, firstly, closing but, then, in the event that it does close, not making that facility available to an alternative user. Within the small north-east Dorset community, the prospect of two processing plants simply shutting down without being able to be used for other purposes is to be regretted and does not reflect well on the companies concerned.

The other approach of the Simplot Closure Task Force is to explore what other alternatives there might be for employment growth. I have encouraged the community to consider what options there are. Indeed, there was a very interesting letter to the North-Eastern Advertiser the other day by a Scott Hall, if I remember correctly. In his letter he talked about his days at Scottsdale High School, where they would sit down every now and then and have brainstorming. He invited the Scottsdale community to brainstorm with each other and just find out what prospects there might be for new employment opportunities. One of those which is very exciting is the Summer Rains Project. Nic van den Bosch and Roger Bicknell and others in that community are pursuing the possibility of irrigation dams on the Boobyalla and Ringarooma rivers. It is in that context, in particular, that the Simplot decision is very disappointing, because in the event that those irrigation schemes are put in, the potential production from the north-east will increase considerably and make the plant, in my considered opinion, even more viable.

As a group of Tasmanian Liberal senators, we have been very supportive of the north-east community in these difficult times. Senator John Watson and I were at the Scottsdale RSL for a public meeting. I had the opportunity to address a rally of community people just the other Friday. I can assure the people of the north-east that the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team will continue to work very hard to try to change Simplot's decision. In the event that they will not change their decision on closure we will to try to get them to make the facility available. Even if we do succeed in getting Simplot to change their mind, there is of course always the opportunity to explore and develop the other employment creating prospects that I think that region may well have. I would like to thank the Tasmania Employment Advisory Council, Sheryl Thomas and the staff, who have worked hard in liaison with the Simplot Closure Task Force in getting things together so that they can put in an application under the government's very successful Regional Assistance Program.

I would like to indicate that the community is very pleased that on the state scene there has been a bipartisan approach. Two newly elected members for Bass in the House of Assembly—Peter Gutwein, the new shadow Treasurer, and Ms Kathryn Hay, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier— have both been working together and that has been recognised by the community. Federally, the Australian Labor Party sent Mr Ferguson down, who, might I add, was verywell received at the Scottsdale RSL. It was one of those pleasant occasions where we could find no fault with each other in what we had said that evening, and comments were made to that effect. I am aware that there is concern that at those two public meetings there was not a single representative of federal Labor in Tasmania, be it at the Scottsdale RSL meeting or, indeed, at the public rally.

Whilst I acknowledge that Martin Ferguson was at the Scottsdale RSL meeting, I would have thought that with such a dilemma facing the north-east community at least one of the Tasmanian Labor senators might have found their way to that meeting. I indicate for the record that Senator Brian Harradine and Colin Rattray MLC found their way to the Scottsdale RSL meeting. That community does deserve a lot of support, and I would simply encourage federal Labor representatives from Tasmania to adopt the same sort of bipartisan approach as the state opposition in Tasmania has. The people of Scottsdale and Dorset can be assured that the Liberal Senate team, along with their state colleagues and indeed the state Labor Party, will continue to work hard to do whatever they can for the community.

Senate adjourned at 6.46 p.m.