Monday, 21 November 2011
Goulburn Valley Food Cooperative
The date 27 May 2011 is seared into the memories of the citizens of the tiny town of Girgarre in Northern Victoria. Girgarre is typical of your country town: a population of about 600 people, a great little school, great footy and netball teams, a new war memorial outside the RSL, a regular farmers market and now a famous annual music muster dedicated to learners and performers run by volunteers.
Last Saturday, in the pouring rain, we celebrated the birth of the Goulburn Valley Food Cooperative. It has been born out of the tragedy of 146 workers at the Heinz factory being told that they were no longer needed. The Heinz tomato sauce factory in Girgarre, which for 20 years had produced the icon Big Red and ketchup tomato sauce, said, 'Look, we can do it better in New Zealand. Sure, they don't grow saucing tomatoes in New Zealand, but we can import them very cheaply. We will also have a much cheaper carbon tax and wages will be less, so we're out of here.' The 146 Heinz workers at Girgarre could have called it quits at that point and spent the rest of their lives thinking about the great little place they once called home. Instead, the factory workers, the community and some other great people have loudly and together said, 'Enough is enough. We grow great food, we have the skills, we have the imagination. We're not going to produce commodity; we're going to produce niche, finely grown, unique product. It will be an Aussie product, and we'll market on the basis that it is grown under the great blue skies of northern Victoria and it is grown in a way that is loving and caring and produces good, safe food.'
The Goulburn Valley Food Cooperative has a white knight in the form of Mr John Gillett, who has offered $2 million to help establish the new innovative food processing and marketing centre. Designs for a new $7 million food and tourist hub are on the drawing board—and they look magnificent. We had Peter Russell-Clarke offer to be the new marketing director. On Saturday at the rally, in the relentless rain, from the usual place of announcements—the back of a very big truck—we listened to the local children sing their special songs of togetherness. They were from Kyabram and they care just as much about Girgarre. We heard the new advertising jingle, pushing 'Australian made' and 'Let's be together' and 'Let's do well together'. Jason Hefford of the AMWU was cheering on as part of his union position. We had the people from Coca-Cola Amatil—who are also concerned about losing their jobs—lending their support, and the offer from the broader community was unrelenting. Despite the damp environs, we had the good cheer of that community who are prepared to take the risks and who understand what is ahead in terms of moving into a food cooperative. It was something that I have to say was simply inspiring.
I have to pay special tribute to Mr Les Cameron, who has been the team leader over the last six months. He has brought the factory workers from a stage of absolute despair to a sense of hopefulness about the future. We know that this food cooperative will not be simple. Cooperatives have been born and have died across the Australian landscape since our early dairy cooperatives—some of them over 150 years ago—but we think we have a magnificent product in northern Victoria. It is not just the great human enterprise and skills of the people; we have also got great soils, we have got great water—if this government does not take more of it—and we have got good infrastructure. But most of all this community has a heart. I have to say that I was very moved on Saturday when I talked about one of our first early World War I leaders, Sir Murray Bourchier, who is famous for being one of the leaders of the charge of the Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba. Just that morning, before this rally, we had commemorated his life with another special recognition on his grave. He was born and raised in Shepparton. I recall the great way that those light horsemen shook off the five miles of charge and ended up defeating the Turks in the most extraordinary way. Just like the great light horsemen, this community will walk, then it will trot, then it will move faster and finally it will charge towards a new future.
I say good luck to this Goulburn Valley food cooperative. They have my wholesome support. The state government has given $30,000 for a food business plan. This government says it will help; I am waiting for this government to put its money where its mouth is. I invite Minister Crean to join in this great new venture and help, via the Gillard government's support, because that support will certainly pay dividends for all Australians. (Time expired)