Liberal MP Sharman Stone accuses Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey of lying over SPC Ardmona’s workplace agreement

February 4, 2014

Mark Kenny, James Massola

EXCLUSIVE

Liberal MP Sharman Stone has launched an extraordinary attack on Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey, accusing them of “lying” in defending their decision not to give $25 million to fruit processor SPC Ardmona.

Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey and Employment Minister Eric Abetz have all suggested it was the fruit cannery’s “overgenerous” workplace conditions with unions that had contributed to its financial woes.

Local MP Dr Sharman Stone at the SPC Ardmona plant in Shepparton in Victoria. She wants the government to provide $25 million of assistance to keep the factory open.Local Liberal MP Dr Sharman Stone at the SPC Ardmona plant in Shepparton in Victoria. She has attacked Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey over their comments on SPC Armdona’s workplace agreement. Photo: Ray Sizer

Dr Stone, whose Goulburn Valley electorate takes in SPC Ardmona, told ABC radio on Tuesday that her colleagues were misleading the public by saying workplace conditions were to blame.

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Asked whether she thought Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey are ”actually, really lying when they’re saying it’s about this issue (the workplace agreement)”, Dr Stone responded: ”Well they’re not speaking the reality.”

Asked if that constituted ”lying”, Dr Stone said: “It’s not the truth, that’s right, it’s lying.”

“What really upsets me most . . . the federal government didn’t say, look we’d love to help but we just don’t have the money right now,” she added.

“What they said was, we’re not going to help because it is the amazing wages and conditions that have knocked this company for six.”

Dr Stone said such arguments were “just wrong”.

“If I was in Parliament I couldn’t say ‘liar’ because it’s unparliamentary.”

Rather than overly generous wages and conditions, it was the “dumping” of cheap products by supermarket chains, the Coles and Woolworths duopoly, the rise in imports, the floods and 10 years of drought that contributed to SPC’s troubles, Dr Stone said.

“This is a witch hunt,” she added. “And sorry, I don’t like witch hunts, which are . . . unfair and in this case could lead to us losing an industry.”

In a decision taken last Friday that could risk up to 3000 jobs in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley, Mr Abbott supported Liberal economic dries including Mr Hockey and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to knock back SPC’s request for government co-investment.

Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce had backed the company’s request, which would have triggered a $25 million investment from the Victorian government and ensured SPC’s parent company, Coca-Cola Amatil, would spend up to $161 million on the canning facilities.

SPC managing director Peter Kelly said the decision was disappointing and would trigger a review of the company’s manufacturing operations. Victoria’s Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said the decision was a significant setback for the Goulburn Valley.

Mr Abbott said the company had posted a half-year profit of $216 million to June 2013, signalled its willingness to invest $161 million in its manufacturing operations and there was “no way” the government wanted to see workers take a pay cut.

“It is very important that they complete the renegotiation they have embarked upon,” he said.

“It is very important they complete the negotiation of the enterprise bargaining agreement . . . there are wet allowances, there are loadings, there are extensive provisions to cash out sick leave, there are extremely generous redundancy provisions.”

With James Massola

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The Sydney Morning Herald

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