Tasmanian Country - - FRONT PAGE - ROGER HAN­SON

A GLIM­MER of hope flick­ers to keep the Edith Creek milkpro­cess­ing plant near Smith­ton op­er­at­ing.

Plant owner Mur­ray Goul­burn has en­tered into an agree­ment to sell its busi­ness to Cana­dian gi­ant Sa­puto that would mean clos­ing Edith Creek, but an­other suitor is hop­ing to buy it as an on­go­ing con­cern.

Mel­bourne-based TasAsia Dairy, run by agri­cul­tural en­tre­pre­neur Stephen Blair, is lin­ing up as a po­ten­tial suitor for the UHT milk plant.

Thai­land’s Dutch Hill Dairy Group, which spe­cialises in pro­duc­ing and sell­ing UHT dairy foods in Thai­land, is shap­ing up as TasAsia’s main com­pe­ti­tion for the plant.

“We have of­fered a cash deal, but can­not com­ment be­cause we are bound by a con­fi­den­tially agree­ment,” Mr Blair said.

The plant cur­rently makes eight lines of UHT milk, pro­cessed milk­shakes and cus­tards.

TasAsia is propos­ing to run or­ganic and reg­u­lar milk prod­ucts and lift the num­ber of prod­uct lines run to 10.

All work­ers at the Edith Creek plant are set to be made re­dun­dant on Novem­ber 30 when MG closes the fac­tory.

Last week the Na­tional Union of Work­ers wrote to MG and Sa­puto, call­ing for a re­newed com­mit­ment not to moth­ball the Edith Creek fac­tory if the site is not in­cluded in a sale to Sa­puto.

An MG spokesman said the co-op­er­a­tive re­tained the right to sell the site after the Sa­puto deal.

The NUW also wrote to Sa­puto to or­gan­ise a meet­ing with chief ex­ec­u­tive Lino Sa­puto Jnr and the union’s na­tional sec­re­tary Tim Kennedy.

The union was ne­go­ti­at­ing for Edith Creek em­ploy­ees who stay to their nom­i­nated ter­mi­na­tion date to re­ceive a $4000 re­ten­tion pay­ment.

Yes­ter­day MG said it had in-prin­ci­ple agree­ment with the NUW on the pay­ment, to be ap­proved by the em­ploy­ees.

Presently there about 78 work­ers left at the plant, but TasAsia hopes to re­build that num­ber to about 120 in the fu­ture.

MG has en­tered into an agree­ment with Sa­puto Dairy Aus­tralia for the sale of the com­pany for $1.3 bil­lion. The agree­ment did not in­clude Edith Creek.

How­ever, an­other five Chi­nese bid­ders are still lin­ing up to buy MG.

MG used to re­ceive about 20 per cent of Tas­ma­nia’s milk but it lost sup­pli­ers last year be­cause of low far­m­gate prices and a ret­ro­spec­tive claw­back.

In­dus­try sources es­ti­mated the value of the Edith Creek plant be­tween $10 mil­lion and $20 mil­lion.

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