THE future of Fonterra’s ageing Cororooke plant has been under a cloud for some years but the company’s decision to shut it down still came as a shock to many locals.
The ageing factory’s coal-fired boilers made its energy costs very expensive and the site, located 10 kilometres north of Colac, also lacked access to natural gas.
However Fonterra Ingredients Australia managing director Simon Bromell said it was no one factor that prompted the decision to close the factory.
“It was the age of the site, the infrastructure, the services, the energy that made it not commercially viable.”
The factory has had a number of owners over the past century with Fonterra taking over complete ownership in 2005 from Bonlac Foods after having part ownership for a number of years.
The factory was the hub of the village, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with most of its employees living in nearby Colac.
Apart from the factory, there is not much else at Cororooke apart from a general store, a hall and homes that house a few hundred people.
Cororooke hall committee president Rod Stephenson said the factory’s closure was “terrible news”.
However he said the closure “does not surprise me because it was briquette-fired and had very old boilers”.
Mr Stephenson drove milk tankers to the factory for about 15 years and said the plant had been a critical one for Bonlac Foods when it owned it.
When other Bonlac Foods plants in Victoria were experiencing production problems, Cororooke had processed their surplus milk.
“It got them out of trouble.”
National Union of Workers state secretary Tim Kennedy said the decision to close the plant had “come out of the blue” and the union was “flattened” by it.
“These are decent, well-paying manufacturing jobs holding up these communities and when they disappear, it’s not just the impact on workers and their families, it’s the multiple effect on these communities.”
He said the workers displaced from Cororooke would have to cover significant distances if they were to transfer to Cobden or Dennington.
The loss of the 130 Fonterra jobs at Cororooke follows Murray Goulburn’s decision this year to shed more than 300 people throughout Victoria, including 29 from its Koroit factory.
Mr Kennedy said another 80 jobs would soon go at Lion’s (formerly National Foods) Simpson cheese factory, which was still operating a few months past the closure date that had been previously announced.
Corangamite Shire chief executive officer Andrew Mason focused on the positive for Cobden in the announcement, saying the council was excited at Fonterra’s decision to invest in the town.
Colac Otway Shire Council acting chief executive officer Jack Green said the council was immensely disappointed about the factory’s closure.
“This is a sad day for Colac Otway Shire, and in particular for those people who work at the plant,” Mr Green said.
“Council’s focus will be working with the state government to minimise the impact on our community.”