January 25, 2018
It took just 352 days – plus 700 tonnes of steel and 6800 cubic metres of concrete – for Swickers’ new boning room to officially rise from the ashes.
Politicians, media and more than 200 invited guests congregated at the Kingaroy plant on Wednesday to mark the “opening” of the new Boning Room which has been rebuilt on the site of the old facility which was destroyed by fire in November 2016.
Swickers’ employees have actually been using parts of the new building since last September but it is now fully operational and ready to be shown off to the world.
Wednesday’s event also included the official start of the project to build a new slaughter room on the western side of the Swickers’ site, a $60 million greenfield expansion which had been proposed well before the devastating fire threw all plans into confusion.
Federal Agriculture Minister and Member for Maranoa David Littleproud, who rushed back from a trade trip to India for the event, praised SunPork – the owners of Swickers – as a great Australian agribusiness success story.
Swickers is the largest pig processor in the Southern Hemisphere and Queensland’s only export-accredited pork processing facility.
“The three families involved are from my electorate. We should be very proud of them,” Mr Littleproud said.
State Opposition Leader and Member for Nanango Deb Frecklington endorsed the sentiment and recalled how she felt when she first saw the smoke coming from Swickers as she stood on the back balcony of her home.
“I really would like to give a shout-out to the families involved in Swickers because they are what we love to see in the South Burnett … hard-working Aussie locals who invest in our local towns. It’s a wonderful day for the South Burnett,” she said.
“Not only are we re-opening, but they’re going to expand which means more people in work in the greater South Burnett, and that’s what we need to see: more jobs for regional places.”
Mrs Frecklington said Swickers had made an amazing recovery since the fire – the abattoir was back in action in just three days – and the $60 million expansion would be a boost for the the local economy.
“It has been a mammoth task, and we can’t thank Swickers enough for the commitment they have made to remain in our community and grow the pork industry.”
State Development Minister Cameron Dick, who turned the first sod for the expansion project, also praised the Swickers’ team.
“Queensland is a State where we get off the canvas and box on,” he said.
He said there would be 100 jobs in the expansion project’s construction phase, and then 66 full-time jobs afterwards.
Mr Dick said the State Government had assisted SunPork throughout the transition process after the fire, but said the actual details were “commercial in confidence”.
SunPork Managing Director and CEO Prof Robert van Barneveld praised the South Burnett community who had rallied around the business “as soon as they saw the smoke”.
He especially thanked Dr Anthony Lynham, the then-State Development Minister; Mayor Keith Campbell and the South Burnett Regional Council; and Wickhams Transport which supplied the freezer vans to keep the business going.
“I cannot speak more highly of our insurers,” Prof van Barneveld said.
“And the team at Watpac (the builders) did not have an enviable job. The building was being built as it was being designed …”
He also singled out for praise South Burnett businesses Fiedler Brothers Plumbing, Seilers Transport and concrete contractors Phil Armstrong and Josh Livingstone (Kingaroy Concrete Pumping).
Prof van Barneveld told southburnett.com.au the recent sharp slump in the farmgate price for pigs, reported earlier this month in the Australian Financial Review, would have no effect on SunPork’s expansion plans.
“It’s just one of the challenges of working in the pork industry,” he said.
He said he was expecting prices to stabilise, and in the meantime it was just a case of “weathering the storm”.
Since the fire in November 2016, prices have dropped about 30 per cent or about $1.00 a kilo.
However, he said it should be emphasised that prices were at record highs when they started falling.
Prof van Barneveld said he expected pig prices to start rising again during the next 12 months but he would be surprised if they reached the same heights as before.
Mrs Frecklington praised Swickers for putting $25,000 towards Kingaroy’s first ever “BaconFest”, an idea being brought to life by a group of local community members.
“There’s a lot of excitement and interest in the inaugural festival being held in August this year. It will celebrate life in the South Burnett, and use bacon, one of the nation’s favourite foods, to attract thousands of new visitors to our region,” she said.
“Plus, SunPork Fresh Foods have announced they will sponsor $25,000 towards getting this first event off the ground. That’s a major commitment to the region and this fantastic initiative,” she said.