Premier’s plea as milk giant shuts factory
A FRENCH-owned dairy company that was controversially awarded a lucrative Queensland Health dairy contract will close its Rockhampton factory and scale back production in Brisbane.
Lactalis, the multinational company behind the Pauls, Ice Break, Vaalia and Breaka brands, will close the central Queensland facility on February 28.
Lactalis Australia will also scale back yoghurt production at its South Brisbane site, blaming a low milk supply for the changes.
"There is insufficient farm milk in Queensland to also support yoghurt manufacturing so the factory has relied on transporting milk from other states to meet demand," a company spokeswoman said.
Yoghurt manufacturing will be moved to Victoria and Tasmania.
The closure could put 47 factory employees out of work, but Lactalis has promised to help redeploy staff where possible.
This month the company was awarded a two-year contract to supply milk and dairy products to some of the state's major hospitals at the expense of Queensland's Maleny Dairies, prompting the Opposition to slam the Government for ignoring its own "Buy Queensland" policy.
Health Minister Steven Miles disputed the allegation, saying the priority was granting contracts to companies which employed locals and could meet the supply requirements.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has written to Lactalis, urging it to reverse its decision to axe Queensland jobs.
She warned Lactalis CEO Rod Walden she had asked her director-general Dave Stewart to "examine how the Queensland Government engages with Lactalis into the future".
She expressed her disappointment at the changes that would see 47 job losses impact not only the local economy of Rockhampton but also the livelihoods of local workers.
"My Government also takes issue with your proposal to move the manufacturing of yoghurt from your South Brisbane plant to Victoria and Tasmania," she said in the letter.
"I understand your South Brisbane operation is well equipped to continue this work, and should be able to continue providing Queenslanders with this yoghurt.
"My Government has previously dealt with your company in good faith in the interest of providing as many good, secure jobs to Queenslanders as possible."
The LNP tabled a motion in Parliament yesterday demanding the Government review the decision and award at least part of the contract to a Queensland-owned business.
LNP agriculture spokesman Tony Perrett condemned Lactalis' decision and said was "cutting and running from this state".
"Lactalis is putting the profits of its foreign owners ahead of the jobs of Queensland workers and dairy farmers," he said.
Lactalis said its Rockhampton factory had not been processing at full capacity for several years and was only operating three or four days each week with redirected milk supplies from southeast Queensland.
Queensland senator Pauline Hanson said Lactalis was "ripping the guts out of regional cities like Rockhampton".
"Sadly the decision by Lactalis to kill off 47 jobs will see another building left empty and an industry and its workers on its knees," she said.
"While Lactalis claims it'll foot the bill for farmers to transport their milk to the Sunshine Coast or Brisbane, I can't see that offer lasting too long."
Last year Lactalis was accused of trying to hurry Australian farmers to sign milk supply contracts that paid them less than the cost of production, in the hope of circumventing the Australian Government's Mandatory Dairy Code of Conduct.
"Lactalis needs to look in the mirror and ask: can you honestly say you have paid the dairy farmers a fair price for their milk or are you part of the cause of the destruction of the dairy industry," she said.
"Queensland farmers are tough, but the dairy industry has been slaughtered by the inaction of the Liberal and National Party who supported the deregulation of the industry and continue to allow supermarkets to buy milk from our farmers for less than production cost to feed supermarkets obsession with cheap $1 milk."
Milk from North Queensland dairy farmers will be redirected to Nambour and Brisbane after the closure.
Queensland Dairyfarmers' Organisation president Brian Tessmann wasn't surprised by the decision and said the low availability of fresh milk made the factory unviable.
"Falling milk production in Queensland is what the problem is," he said.
Mr Tessmann said the state's dairy industry was "not in a good place at all," he said.
"Farmers are really desperate to get a better price for their milk," he said.
Just 320 dairy farmers remain in Queensland, down from 1500 two decades ago.
Mr Tessmann said "trailer loads" of dairy cows had been sent to the meatworks in recent months as farmers gave up on battling drought and low prices.
He said shoppers could make a difference by purchasing a reputable brand of milk.
"Pauls, Norco or Dairy Farmers or one of the other small brands," he said.
"That's the best thing consumers can do."
French-owned Lactalis is the largest dairy company in the world, according to its website, employing 80,000 people in 94 countries.
It is the largest purchaser of milk from Queensland farms, buying 150 million litres of milk from 114 dairy farmers each year.