Norco has said a $34.7M offer to save its ice cream factory in Lismore is not enough

David Kirkpatrick
Updated September 20 2022 - 2:51pm, first published September 14 2022 - 12:05pm

Updated 16/9: Norco has confirmed it will stand down its workforce at its flood-impacted ice cream factory in Lismore once government subsidies run out next Friday.

Norco CEO Michael Hampson told ABC television: "The government has been clear there will be no further payments made for employee wages over this period so we will have to stand people down and we will welcome them back once we can get a project completed rebuilding the ice cream facility at Lismore.

"We will be asking the government for a little bit more assistance as we move forward because we want that facility back in place for the town of Lismore.

"In the near term we will need to stand the people down next Friday, but we look forward to the future, we look forward to getting our ice cream facility up and running and in another couple of years, once that has settled down, how can we expand it."

He said workers at the factory had been appreciative of the income support they had received from government since the February 28 flood.

"Our teams members have had a considerable amount of time to adjust and work through what is best for their families," Mr Hampson said.

Original story: Financial brinkmanship is again threatening the future of Norco's factory in Lismore and the jobs of its 240 workers.

On the one hand, Norco is claiming it now needs $141.8 million to bring its flood-wrecked ice cream factory on the banks of the Wilsons River back online.

This includes restoring its facilities to how they were pre-floods, the cost of clean-up and damage, inventory and workforce costs, as well as flood mitigation works.

That estimate is up from the $60 to $70 million Norco CEO Michael Hampson estimated back in July.

Norco has been allocated $34.7 million under the Anchor Business Support Package recently announced by the State and Federal Governments.

While welcome, a Norco spokesperson said the funding, fell "well short" of what was needed to safeguard the factory's future.

"We continue in positive dialogue with the government and reman hopeful that we can secure a better outcome, for our workforce, our farmers and the broader Lismore community," a Norco spokesperson said.

"If we are unable to achieve this, it's likely that 240 jobs will be permanently lost from the Lismore community - something we've been fighting hard to avoid since the floods occurred."

On the other hand, Commonwealth's Emergency Management Minister, Murray Watt described the offer made to Norco as "fair and reasonable".

He told ABC radio that in addition to the nearly $35 million offered to Norco, $8 million had been paid out in wages and the company was keen to spend a further $11 million already allocated by the Federal Government on the rebuild.

"I think that it's pretty clear that we're acting in good faith and we do want to stand with the Northern Rivers region and help it rebuild," he said.

"But you know, there's money that we've got to find for housing, there's money we've got to find for other business support.

"And I think it's important that we make sure that everyone in the community gets a fair go out of their government."

The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union and the Electrical Trades Union, are seeking an urgent meeting with Norco and also pushing for the financial support for workers to be extended.

"We hope that Norco is transparent about its plans for the factory," Electrical Trades Union NSW & ACT secretary Allen Hicks said.

"The Lismore area - workers and the community deserve certainty and stability."

Shadow Emergency Management Minister, Senator Perin Davey is urging the government to work with the company to ensure the ice cream factory has a future in the region.

"I understand Norco are still in discussions with the Government and I encourage them to work together to ensure the company continues for another 100 plus years in Lismore," she said.

Five other businesses, employing around 1200 workers, will share in the remainder of the $60 million pool of money in the Anchor Business Support Package.

These include: Manildra Harwood Sugars ($12 million), North Coast Petroleum ($4 million), Williams Group Australia ($3.6 million), Multitask Human Resources Foundation ($3.3 million) and Social Futures ($899,360).

Norco General Manager of Operations Adrian Kings in the gutted factory. Picture by Cathy Adams
Norco General Manager of Operations Adrian Kings in the gutted factory. Picture by Cathy Adams
David Kirkpatrick

I'm a media professional with over 34 years of experience in public relations and journalism, including a decade setting Lismore's news agenda as the editor of The Northern Star. I have proven track record in growing audiences and improving engagement by delivering quality local stories for and about the Lismore community.