PEOPLE power has forced the NSW government to reinstate Australian-owned Norco as its primary milk and dairy supplier to hospitals on the northern and mid north coasts.
Communities in Norco’s distribution area between Tweed Heads and Port Macquarie were outraged when the government’s procurement provider Healthshare NSW, awarded the NSW Health contract to foreign-owned Dairy Farmers.
Norco board chairman Greg McNamara said the company was not prepared to negotiate the price of their tender at the expense of local farmers and received widespread community support in his quest to have the contract decision overturned.
He was supported by Lismore MP Thomas George and several of his colleagues including Oxley MP Melinda Pavey who travelled to Sydney on May 17 to present Norco’s case to Minister for Health Brad Hazzard.
I feel really proud about being an Australian today – that’s what Australia is all about.
“I’m almost lost for words. I’m not just happy Norco has had its contract reinstated but happy we also have a government that listens,” Mr McNamara said.
“We presented the concerns we had about the impact their decision would have on Norco and they were willing to listen.
“And they acted at a speed I haven’t seen in a long time. It gives our business a whole new level of enthusiasm that we have people who support us and are willing to take on a battle on our behalf.
“I feel really proud about being an Australian today – that’s what Australia is all about.”
Norco represents 211 north coast dairy farmers, including those based in the Hastings and Macleay, employs 830 staff and has factories in both Raleigh and Labrador.
The company is fully farmer-owned and the last large dairy co-operative remaining in Australia with a local history spanning 110 years.
In the last financial year, the co-op received 222 million litres of milk from its suppliers.
Dairy Farmers is owned by Kirin Holdings, operating out of Japan.
The NSW Health contract provides milk to more than 16 north coast health and medical facilities including Port Macquarie and Kempsey.
The Minister said the government recognised that the local community wanted to support the local dairy industry in NSW.
“The NSW Ministry of Health has a duty, generally, to provide the best products for patients at the best possible price for taxpayers,” Mr Hazzard said.
“In that context the NSW public sector agency, HealthShare NSW, put the state wide contract for milk and dairy supply out to tender and made a decision which precluded Norco supplying hospitals in the northern and mid north coast areas.
“I am grateful to local MP Thomas George for bringing the matter to my attention so promptly and relaying community concerns. It is understandable that locals would prefer to have Norco provide the milk and dairy products for local hospitals.
“In light of the impact on the community, which only came to light after the tender, I asked HealthShare NSW to review its decision. Accordingly, the contract will be reinstated and the benefits of providing local milk to local hospitals have been given priority.”
Melinda Pavey said it was a good result for dairy farmers on the mid north and northern coasts.
“The decision to support the local community and the local dairy industry is a win for our region and I thank my colleague Thomas George for leading on this issue,” she said.
“I think that everyone understands the NSW Ministry of Health has a duty, generally, to provide the best products for patients at the best possible price for taxpayers. But as Nationals – we want to ensure that local jobs are a priority.
“So, it’s a win for our region and it’s a win for our hospitals who can continue to provide patients with quality local milk and dairy products.”
Make no mistake, this is pure people power.
The Health Services Union (HSU) launched a petition to have the contract reinstated which attracted more than 3,000 signatures, while NSW Labor moved a formal notice of motion objecting to the government’s decision.
NSW Shadow Health Minister Walt Secord said “this is about an alliance of the community, farmers and hospital workers coming together to fight for north coast jobs”.
“The Nationals cannot – in good conscience – take a victory lap; this is about the community stopping a bad state government decision,” he said.
“If the community had not spoken, the state government would have stuck with their decision to scrap the contract with Norco.
“Make no mistake, this is pure people power.”