• Australia’s largest dairy co-operative, Norco, said catastrophic flooding in Lismore cost the company more than $100m. (Image: Norco LinkedIn)
    Australia’s largest dairy co-operative, Norco, said catastrophic flooding in Lismore cost the company more than $100m. (Image: Norco LinkedIn)
  • Norco CEO Michael Hampson in July 2022, announcing interim federal government funding to fund a further 10 weeks of employment for staff at the Norco Lismore ice cream factory. 
(Image source: Norco LinkedIn page)
    Norco CEO Michael Hampson in July 2022, announcing interim federal government funding to fund a further 10 weeks of employment for staff at the Norco Lismore ice cream factory. (Image source: Norco LinkedIn page)
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Australia’s largest dairy co-operative, Norco, says it will have to retrench 170 employees, after failing to secure the financial support it was seeking from the federal government for its flood recovery. Norco says potentially 240 jobs may go without adequate funding.  

A spokesperson told Food & Drink Business the company welcomed the fact the federal and state governments were committing close to $60 million to businesses in the Northern Rivers.

One of the joint state and federal funding programs was the Anchor Business Support Grant Program NSW, which would provide funding to flood-affected large businesses to help them return to operations and support employment.

On Friday, 9 September, Federal minister for emergency management Senator Murray Watt was in Lismore to announce the six recipients, including Norco, which was allocated almost $36.7 million.

Recipients:

  • Norco Co-operative Limited - $34,698,362
  • Manildra Harwood Sugars (Sunshine Sugar) - $12,660,971
  • McKinlay Enterprises (North Coast Petroleum) - $4,050,368
  • Williams Group Australia - $3,676,834
  • Multitask Human Resource Foundation - $3,314,105
  • Social Futures - $899,360

The Norco spokesperson told F&DB it was disappointed that none of the three project options it had submitted to the Anchor grant had been supported in its funding allocation.

“We estimate the total cost of the flood to Norco to be $141.8 million. This includes restoring our facilities to how they were pre-floods, the cost of clean-up and damage, inventory, and workforce costs, as well as further flood mitigation works. 

“While we welcome and appreciate the $34.7 million from the governments, it falls well short of what we need to safeguard the factory’s future,” they said.

Watt told ABC North Coast Breakfast program presenter Bruce Mackenzie today (14 September) he was surprised Norco made the redundancy announcement so soon after the grants were announced.

Watt said, “I was in Lismore [9 September] to announce these anchor grants. And I met with the Norco CEO [Michael Hampson] to talk about what we could do together to keep the factory open and keep these jobs going, so it is disappointing to see that Norco has said that it’s very likely those workers will be stood down despite the funding that we’re offering.

“I would certainly like to think that jobs can be found for each of these Norco workers, if the worst does happen and the factory closes. We've been in very regular contact with both Norco management and the unions that cover the workers there, preparing for this.”

Norco CEO Michael Hampson in July 2022, announcing interim federal government funding to fund a further 10 weeks of employment for staff at the Norco Lismore ice cream factory. 
(Image source: Norco LinkedIn page)
Norco CEO Michael Hampson in July 2022, announcing interim federal government funding to fund a further 10 weeks of employment for staff at the Norco Lismore ice cream factory. (Image source: Norco LinkedIn page)

Watt said he understood $8 million in wage subsidies would run out on 23 September, six months after they started.

“The reality is that those workers, most of them, were going to need to find other employment anyway because even if Norco had received the maximum amount that they sought, realistically, it's going to take some time to rebuild that factory, and those workers would need to find other employment,” he said.

Norco said it continued to have a “positive dialogue” with the government and was hopeful it could secure a better outcome “for our workforce, our farmers, and the broader Lismore community”.

“If we are unable to achieve this, it’s likely that 240 jobs will be permanently lost from the Lismore community – something we’ve been fighting hard to avoid since the floods occurred,” the spokesperson said.  

When asked if Norco could still accept the grant if it stands down employees, Watt said that hadn’t been negotiated.

He said Norco was also looking to use another $11 million federal grant that was awarded to it prior to the floods, for rebuilding.

In relation to the Anchor grant, there was a condition on its use that the recipient would remain “a very large presence” in the Northern Rivers.

“What we didn't want to see happen was that we use taxpayers’ funds for businesses based in the Northern Rivers and only see them relocate. So certainly, there would be an expectation that they get back to where they were and use that money to re-engage people.

I still remain hopeful that Norco will consider this offer, will consider the funding that the federal government has provided in general, and that we can keep this factory going,” Watt said.

The Norco spokesperson said, “Norco has been part of the Northern Rivers community for more than 127 years, and with increased support from the governments in these rebuild efforts, we hope to be here for another 127 years.”

 

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