Rising petrol prices blamed as Victorian town loses major employer after 82 years

Regional businesses are starting to buckle under the pressure of unaffordable electricity as Australia’s gas crisis continues to bite.

In the Victorian town of Stawell, about 230km northwest of Melbourne, local manufacturer Advance Bricks is closing after more than 82 years in business.

Chief executive John Collins said the company, which employs 23 people, could no longer pay the electricity bill after the collapse of commercial gas supplier Weston Energy in late May forced it to agree a plan with the ” retailer of last resort” Energy Australia.

Mr. Collins said the company, one of the biggest employers in the city, went from $6-8 a gigajoule of gas to more than $37 a gigajoule overnight, and that no other retailer was unable to supply the brickyard because Energy Australia was the only other retailer that had access to the pipeline.

“The assertion by (Victorian) Premier Andrews and (Federal) Minister Bowen that heavy industries can switch to renewables is a complete and utter fantasy,” he said.

Local Nationals MP Anne Webster said she feared a ‘tsunami of business closures just when we need manufacturing to resume in Australia’.

Energy Australia said it took on 390 business customers from bankrupt gas retailer Weston Energy on May 24 under the Victorian retailer of last resort process, a feature of the national energy market.

Energy Australia said the gas prices it was offering were based on a range of factors, including what it cost to buy gas in a market where all suppliers were paying unusually high prices.

“Stawell and the wider Wimmera area of ​​Victoria is an open market and we welcome greater competition which would provide more choice for businesses,” a spokesperson said.

“Other energy retailers may enter into agreements to supply gas through the pipeline owner.”

Devastating effect on Stawell

Robert McIntosh has worked at Advance Bricks for over 30 years, following in his father’s footsteps.

He started as a boy and was paid three cents a brick to clean bricks after school.

Rob McIntosh started working at Advance Bricks over 30 years ago, cleaning bricks for three cents a brick after school.(Gillian)

The former bricklayer now has an office job at the factory and said closing the business would have a devastating effect on Stawell.

“I think the [brick oven] will be off next week,” he said.

“The bricks in there will be fired…and once they come out, they will be slowly lowered and then extinguished.”

Mr McIntosh was unsure when the factory gates would last close, but ‘I have a holiday in a month for two weeks so that could be it.’

“It’s hard to see them suffer”

For the past 20 years, Administrator Lynne Scott has handled accounts and payroll at Advanced Bricks.

When she saw the handwritten names of former employees in the old records, she realized that the company had employed many people in the small town for many years.

Woman with blonde hair, beige cardigan and pink floral top in front of a display yard of cobblestones and tiles.
Lynne Scott has worked with the family business for 20 years and worries about the future of the owners.(ABC Wimmera: Gilian Aeria)

“It was so nice to come into a family business and work for a family and not be a number,” she said.

“I’m very concerned for the owners because they’ve been here their whole lives and they live and breathe the business,”

“We just work for them so we can go away and do other things, but it’s hard to watch them do it and suffer,” Ms Scott said.

“You let your staff go, you won’t get them back.”

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