While Coca-Cola Amatil isn’t a multinational company like General Motors, it does very nicely thank you from a wide range of business in Australia and the region, focused most notably on its Coca-Cola bottling franchise. Even after a profit fall in the first half of 2013, Coca-Cola Amatil earned over $200 million in half-year profits.
The company is also the owner of SPC Ardmona, which is seeking a substantial injection of government funding — $50 million in total — to continue and invest in its food processing operations in the Goulburn Valley.
In resisting yet another effort at blackmail by General Motors to retain its Holden operations here late last year, the government — or more accurately, Treasurer Joe Hockey — took a politically difficult but correct decision. It is high time the vestiges of the protectionist era in Australian economic policy were wound back, however much voters would prefer to continue to subsidise industries.
SPC Ardmona should be an easier case than Holden: there is no possible argument about the strategic importance of food processing — despite the inane talk from all sides of politics about the absurd, protectionist notion of “food security” — and the political fallout will be more limited.
That’s not to be glib about the difficulties that the 3000-odd people who stand to lose their jobs if SPC Ardmona closes, and their families, will face. Economic restructuring always comes with a human cost. It is a cost generations of Australians in manufacturing have had to pay, but it is also a cost that has yielded long-term benefits in a more flexible, productive and richer economy.
Hockey is again leading the charge on resisting calls for assistance. May he triumph against many of his colleagues in today’s cabinet meeting.