NORPLY FIRE RECOGNISED IN PARLIAMENT

Kyogle Newspaper October 2005

NORPLY FIRE RECOGNISED IN PARLIAMENT

In speaking to this motion today I extend to the Minister for Small Business the thanks of the Lismore electorate for the concern he has demonstrated in respect of the devastation that occurred in Kyogle on Thursday evening. I also pay tribute to the Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister for Rural Affairs, who contacted me first thing on Friday morning about this incident. It is also pleasing to see the honourable member for Ballina, the shadow minister for the North Coast, in the Chamber tonight. He, too, was continually in touch with me during the weekend about the terrible devastation in Kyogle. I appreciate the fact that the Minister has highlighted his concern by raising this matter of public importance in the House today. And it certainly is a matter of public importance.

The effects of the fire have been devastating, not only for Kyogle, and for Norply and its employees, but also for the region. It will have an effect throughout the breadth of this nation because Norply supplies materials throughout Australia. As the Minister said, this loss suffered by Kyogle's biggest employer, Norply plywood factory, has directly contributed to the loss of 143 jobs. Norply has been very responsible in its attitude. I pay tribute to the co-chair of the board, Brian Allom, and to Alan Greensill, Peter Wintour, the general manager of Norply, the management team and the directors of the company, whose first priority and first concern when I saw them on Friday morning was for their employees.

Since that time, to back up that concern, Norply has agreed to provide, out of the company's assets, an additional two weeks wages for every full-time permanent employee to assist them over the period while everything is being sorted out. That will be at a cost to the company of $250,000, and I pay tribute to Norply for doing that. Norply was originally established in Kyogle by a few local business people in an attempt to address unemployment in the town. They decided to set up the company, believing it would address the unemployment problem at Kyogle, and the company was built up over the years. The board has worked very hard, with the co-operation of the company's employees, to make Norply an outstanding company that is recognised throughout Australia.

When I arrived home from Sydney last Friday morning I went straight to Kyogle and visited the Norply plant. It was just like someone had put a blanket over the community; they were simply stunned by what had occurred. I am one of those people who have in the past criticised occupational health and safety practices, fire drills, and other safety measures. But I want to pay tribute to Norply for its insistence with regard to occupational health and safety training. Narelle Little was the shift supervisor on the night of the fire. When the fire was first noticed, within 10 minutes the whole place was alight. But everyone kept their cool, thanks to Narelle. The employees hailed Narelle as a hero, because within five minutes she knew that everyone was out of the place. On behalf of the employees I pay tribute to Narelle for her efforts. The next problem Narelle had to deal with, however, was that the workers all wanted to get a fire hose to try to fight the fire. Narelle had trouble preventing the workers from doing this, but she did, and commonsense prevailed.

I also pay tribute to the emergency services, including the NSW Police, Fire Brigades, Ambulance, the Rural Fire Service, the State Emergency Service, Kyogle Shire Council employees, and the Salvation Army for their efforts in bringing the fire under control in very difficult circumstances. Country areas do not have the large fire engines that the larger cities have. This was a very large factory. As I think the Minister said, there are still flames in the building today, and the forensic team has not yet been able to get inside the building. The whole community is thankful that no-one was injured in the fire and there was no loss of life.

The other people in the area have been extremely co-operative. As the Minister said, Kyogle council, led by Ernie Bennett, has been extremely supportive. I understand that last night the council tabled a motion relating to starting an appeal over the next few weeks to try to assist workers who are experiencing difficulties. Peter Jones lost his job of 13 years when the factory was destroyed. However, the Kyogle father of three is confident that Norply workers will be looked after. He said there is hope for his and his family's future, and for Norply. Peter said he will look for casual work until he finds out what is happening at Norply, but that he wants to go back to Norply and he is prepared to do anything to help the company get up and running again.

Norply has been very positive in its determination to get the company up and running. Regrettably, it will probably be at least two years before it is able to get back to full production. The major concern, however, is how to keep 140 experienced workers in a small town like Kyogle. We cannot let those resources leave the community of Kyogle. I am pleased to hear the Minister say today that he is prepared to work with the council and other local organisations to provide support to encourage those experienced young people to stay in the Kyogle area.

I also pay tribute to the Federal member for Page, Ian Causley. I spoke to him last Friday when he was in Canberra. He got straight onto Centrelink and arranged for Centrelink officers to attend the area on that day. Centrelink has been able to fast track payments for permanent employees so there will not be a gap in benefits. I know both the workers and the company appreciated the news that once the entitlements are organised the workers will be able to go onto Centrelink payments, until further arrangements are sorted out.

Summerland Credit Union, a local credit union, led the field on Friday by coming out at about 9 o'clock and saying, "Anyone who banks with us, we will suspend your required payments for one month until the situation is sorted out." The credit union's lead has now been followed by other banks. It has certainly raised the spirits of the local community. I have been honoured by the way everyone has pulled together. Kyogle's community support and resilience has always been strong.

Last Sunday, just to give the town of Kyogle a bit of a lift, its under-18 rugby league team made the group 1 rugby league grand final. Indeed, they not only made the grand final, they also won it. I think the fire and the loss of Norply was the motivation which spurred those young blokes on. The team had about 250 supporters at Murwillumbah, and they came away winners. That certainly put a little bit of spring back in the step of the Kyogle community. I felt a great thrill for Kyogle. I congratulate Wayne Lollback, who is a great supporter of the Kyogle rugby league team, on the team's achievements.

Once again I thank everyone who has been in touch with me since last Friday, including Minister Campbell, Minister Kelly, Ian Causley, The Hon. Duncan Gay MLC, the honourable member for Ballina, and other members of Parliament who have offered their support. I can assure the Kyogle community and the employees of Norply that everyone on the North Coast and in the Northern Rivers region is behind them in this time of need.

Lismore Contact Details:

Office: 55 Carrington Street  LISMORE
Postal: PO Box 52  LISMORE  NSW  2480
Telephone: 02 6621 3624
Facsimile: 02 6622 1403
Email: lismore@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Murwillumbah Contact Details:

Telephone: 02 6672 7577