Thomas Foods International

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (17:35): I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, not only on your fantastic, thumping election victory in Hartley but also on your ascension to that regal place you hold now.

I would like to reflect on what was an industrial tragedy in my electorate on 23 January. Thankfully, it was not a human injury tragedy, and it was not a human death tragedy. It was the terrible fire at Thomas Foods International. On the night, I was in Adelaide, working out of Adelaide, and when I realised what was happening I sent a staff member around to Thomas Foods to live-stream some of the footage of what was happening. It was clear that most of the factory was going to burn. It was very sad. It was a welding accident on a bin. The guys there thought they had put the fire out, but some sparks got into a roof place that they did not see, where it got away.

To the credit of all the safety officers and all the staff, they got everyone out. I was talking to one of the migrant workers afterwards at the community centre. She said that she was one of the last ones out. She was in the area where they wash their boots off, and she was too busy trying to wash her boots, even though the place was going up around her—she was doing the right thing by biosecurity measures. They said, 'Just get out.' It shows the dedication of the staff at that plant.

There were 1,400 people employed at that plant, so obviously with the burn down instantaneously 1,400 jobs disappeared. At Thomas Foods, there was a combination of workers on 417 visas—they are known as the backpackers—and 457 workers and local workers. Essentially, the backpackers were laid off straightaway and then jobs were sought for the approximately 900 other workers. Thomas Foods have done amazing work in expanding the plant at Lobethal, getting people into Tamworth—and moving people up there has created a lot of logistical issues—but also getting people into other jobs in the community. I must say that the meat industry was very quick to put advertisements in the local paper in Murray Bridge looking for people involved in the meat industry, because the skills are so highly valued.

I want to commend the emergency services—the SES, the MFS, the CFS—and the Salvation Army. I want to commend the interchurch council. I want to commend the whole community of Murray Bridge who have got behind the people who worked at this plant. It is absolutely devastating for the Thomas family, who invested in this plant in the late nineties. They have invested around $300 million over time, so essentially that fire is an approximately $300 million fire. But they have the capacity now to have the Phoenix rising out of the ashes and to build a meatworks that will be the best in the world when they finally get it done.

They have a vision of doing that. They have multiple sites where they can do that. They have the option of building on the old site, which still has derelict buildings on it, but there are some other sites where they can build that have less constriction. They are flatter sites and probably in my mind better sites to get on with the job.

Yes, it was tough and it was very hard on the community. I was down there the next morning talking to the media. I had been talking to former government ministers the night before about what needed to be done. The community centre got set up for several weeks. We had aid agencies working out of there. We had local pastors and the Red Cross—we had everyone on board—and now Thomas Foods have their own liaison office on Adelaide Road, so they will rebuild. There is a lot to do. The government is supporting bussing workers through to Lobethal.

I must say I am amazed that, when you look at how our bureaucracy works, that for seven years people have tried to get B-double access into Lobethal and they managed to get that within a few weeks. Within a couple of weeks, there was B-double access into Lobethal. I note the federal government coming on board with $14 million to assist with road funding to make access better there. I acknowledge the community around Lobethal, who took on board that something needed to be done to get access to the site. The EPA got on board so the expansion could be done, so the second shift could go up there. I would like to say that I wish Thomas Foods all the best in their future endeavours, and they will build the best meat processing facility in the world within the next couple of years.

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