Pan Pac CEO, Tony Clifford. Photo: Simon Cartwright
Pan Pac CEO, Tony Clifford. Photo: Simon Cartwright

Just like Bill Murray, Pan Pac Forest Products CEO Tony Clifford is experiencing his own version of Groundhog Day.

The frustration in his voice was clear, when he spoke to Bay Buzz on Tuesday, 24 August.

Of national lockdown 2.0, he recognises the need for health and safety during the pandemic, but notes the 100% shut down of Pan Pac plant comes at a heavy price.

“It’s disappointing that there’s this blanket approach to lockdown. If you’re not in the food chain or medical, you have to grin and bear it.

“For our business, that means a $3 million hole every week we are shut down. We can manage for a week or two, but if lockdown rolls on, there’s a risk to our supporting contractor infrastructure. We’re in a holding pattern until lockdown is lifted. It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

Pre lockdown, Pan Pac was earning $1.1 million in profit every week. That has rapidly turned to a loss. With no money coming in to offset its $1.9 million weekly wages and fixed costs bill. It’s clear that being locked down is a very costly exercise.

Since June last year, Clifford has been lobbying to have Pan Pac certified to operate at Level Four. But so far, his calls have fallen on deaf ears. He was reassured that certification wasn’t required, as there will “never be another Level Four”. 

And yet, here we are. 

Clifford says that he will not give up his campaign. 

“We could all be living with Covid-19 for a couple more years. Why not prepare for that?

“I’m waiting for the dust to settle on the current lockdown. The cost to prepare – by being audited, and therefore able to operate at Level 4 – is quite minimal. We just need a Government agency to stand up.”

Clifford says that any business that can demonstrate management of critical risk should be considered. 

“For large businesses with significant health and safety protocols, it’s just adding another string to their bow.”

For an exporter like Pan Pac, the biggest risk of any lockdown, is loss of market share, he explains.

“When we don’t supply to our customers they perceive their supply chain is unreliable, so they buy from other countries (who aren’t shut down). 

“Luckily for us, we have significant customer loyalty.”

Clifford wants any business that has a large health and safety capability and significant export market risk to be able to operate during lockdowns. 

“This is not just about us,” he says.

In the end, Clifford says, it needs energy and commitment from the Government to make the kind of certification he’s campaigning for, happen.

Regarding being able to operate during lockdown, Clifford is conscious of balancing staff health and production.

“We’re more than happy to accept a lower production rate, if that meant we could operate. We’re not asking for 100% capacity.”

With Delta case numbers still rising, it’s hard to say when Pan Pac kilns will roar into production and the familiar steam plume rises above its Whirinaki plant. 

And the likelihood of certification for Pan Pac and other export businesses to operate in any future lockdown? That’s anybody’s guess.

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