Rising gas prices blamed on loss of major Victorian city employer after 82 years

Regional businesses are beginning to succumb to the pressure of unaffordable energy as Australia’s gas crisis continues to bite.

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

Managing director John Collins says the company, which employs 23 people, was unable to pay its utility bills after the collapse of commercial gas supplier Weston Energy in late May forced it into a plan with “retailer of last resort” Energy Australia.

Mr. Collins said the company, one of the city’s largest employers, was paying $6 to $8 per gigajoule of gas overnight to more than $37 per gigajoule, and no other gas retailer could manage the brickworks. supply because Energy Australia was the only other retailer that had access to the gas pipeline.

“The claim by (Victorian) Prime Minister Andrews and (Federal) Secretary Bowen that heavy industries can switch to renewable energy is complete and utter fantasy,” he said.

Local Nationals MP Anne Webster said she feared a “rolling tsunami of business closures as we need production to pick up in Australia”.

Energy Australia said it acquired 390 business customers from failed 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 rates it offered 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 region in Victoria is an open market and we welcome increased competition that would give businesses more choice,” said a spokesperson.

“Other energy retailers can make arrangements to supply gas through the pipeline owner.”

Devastating influence on Stawell

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

He started as a boy and was paid three cents a stone to clean the stones after school.

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

The former bricklayer now has a desk job at the factory and said the company’s closure would have a devastating effect on Stawell.

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

“The stones that are in it are boiled… and when they come out they are slowly rejected and then turned off.”

Mr. McIntosh wasn’t sure when the factory doors would be closing for the last time, but “I’m on vacation for two weeks in a month, so that could be it.”

‘Hard to see them suffer’

Administrator Lynne Scott has been processing accounts and payroll at Advanced Bricks for 20 years.

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

Woman with blond hair, beige cardigan and pink floral top in front of a display of paving stones and tiles.
Lynne Scott has been with the family business for 20 years and is concerned about the owners’ future.ABC Wimmera: Gilian Aeria

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

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

“We just work for them so we can walk away and do something else, but it’s hard to see them do it and suffer,” Ms Scott said.

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

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