| June 14, 2017

Shepparton Manufacturing

Whilst Shepparton, my home town, is world famous for its food production—with companies such as SPC and Campbell Soup, the Murray Goulburn and Bega dairy processors, and all of the other food processors throughout the whole Goulburn Valley—it is little known that we have a company called Pental products also based in Shepparton. Pental manufactures a whole range of White King bleaches, Pears and Country Life soaps, Softly detergents, Lucifer and Jiffy firelighters, Martha's wool wash, Huggie, and the Velvet and Luxe brands of soap. They are all manufactured in Shepparton.

It was quite an amazing opportunity to look through that last week with Carmine and Paul Moore—to have a good look around and see exactly what this manufacturing precinct has to offer in relation to the employment that is going on in Shepparton, and also to see some of these commodities that are produced in Shepparton but have been able to compete not just in the Australian market but around the world. There are a whole range of home brands that are also produced at the Shepparton site. The employee base, which comes from everywhere around the Murray electorate, certainly seem to be very well looked after and seem to be very happy in their jobs—and we see this a lot. The beauty about Pental is also that a large amount of their product is based on tallow—animal produce—rather than palm oil. We understand there is a very strong environmental push against palm oil products, and, for the vast majority of the products that we see at Pental, the base is in fact the animal produce tallow.

I had an opportunity to speak to a range of the employees there, and they are very happy with the way it is working, but they are all concerned about the concept of rising energy prices. Electricity and gas prices are putting more and more pressure on these businesses. This is no different to a lot of the other food manufacturing plants I have been to. It is one of those issues that we have to continually be aware of, and I know it is now gaining serious traction throughout the parliament. It is interesting that Paul Moore has been on this issue for quite a while. As one of the managers of the Shepparton site, he is very concerned about what these rising energy prices are going to mean to their viability at Pental, and is very strong to push the fact that they simply need affordable gas and electricity if they hope to remain competitive. They are taking the opportunity to investigate what it would cost for a capital expansion to solar. They have a huge factory roof area, and the opportunities to, potentially, go into solar are being sourced at the moment. But that would be a very expensive capital expansion if they go down that path.

This issue was also flushed out when we had the opportunity to visit Tatura Fresh, the hydroponic set-up on the Midland Highway just outside Tatura. There are 10 hectares under glass cover growing world-class quality tomatoes, and they are about to replicate what they currently have. Straight up it will be another 50 jobs for the Goulburn Valley, but, again, this $10 million investment is being put under threat by the uncertainty surrounding the electricity and gas markets. Murphy Fresh have other hydroponic set-ups at Mansfield and Benalla, but the Shepparton region has the ideal climate, for all but two of the hottest months of the year, and is very well placed for these future expansions. We just need to be able to do everything we possibly can to drive the cost of electricity and gas down, so that we can secure these jobs for our people in our electorates.

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