By Michael Giles

IT WAS inevitable that Murray Goulburn would have to cut staff at Leongatha after such a big hit to its milk supply.
But it was a shock all the same when the news did come through last week.
Already there had been 12 redundancies to their ‘Inbound Logistics Team’ in October, most of them tanker drivers and the latest round of 52 redundancies brings the cuts in the past two months to 64.
That’s significant in a small town.
The latest redundancies are across MG’s salaried, trades and operator workforce at the site and roughly in proportionate percentage to the overall number of employees in these areas.
Some estimates are that this represents a 20 per cent reduction in employees at Leongatha although the firm declined to put a figure on the number of people presently working there.
Some people will happily put their hands up for the redundancy offer but others, especially those over 40, are fearful of the change and where they might get alternative work locally.
So there’s no doubt the State Government has a responsibility to step in and make sure all assistance that can be offered to these workers is offered. They’ve acknowledged that.
And on the vexed issue of whether the government should be offering an economic support package to Leongatha and district, especially after what it has been doing for the Latrobe Valley, yes certainly it should.
South Gippsland may not be going through the fundamental changes affecting the Valley but our reliance on the dairy industry does leave us vulnerable to market gyrations and poor management in the sector and there’s a strong case for the government to bring forward initiatives in this area that will lead to diversification.
Better public transport is certainly on.
On the positive side though, Murray Goulburn and its likely new owner, Saputo, remain committed to getting Leongatha back up to operating capacity in the future.
And Burra Foods at Korumburra is kicking goals, having boosted its intake by 60 million litres or 20 per cent, announcing a step-up this week as a result of increased efficiencies, taking on more staff and on the verge of an expansion announcement.
They’ll benefit from the State’s $30 million water connection project.
So all’s not lost but there will be significant pain for the local economy while dairy farmers continue to struggle and Murray Goulburn sorts out its problems.
The State Government should therefore be looking to bring forward some economic development initiatives in the local area, by providing early funding for the Leongatha and Korumburra CBD redevelopments, stage 2 of the Korumburra Secondary College, the rail trail extension to Nyora and laying down a blueprint for overflow growth in this area that includes better public transport connections.