THE mood in Macksville is far from buoyant following the announcement that Express Coach Builders is shedding 25 employees over the coming months from its 90-strong workforce.
Established in 1995, the company has long been a stellar example of successful regional manufacturing and a major employer in the community. This week, however, general manager and long-time Nambucca Valley resident Paul Hoffmann had to deal the devastating blow.
"Due to the current economic climate, the high Australian dollar and the number of imported buses coming into Australia, we have seen our sales drop by 35% in the past nine months," Mr Hoffmann said.
"Express Coach Builders, and the bus industry as a whole, continues to lose ground to imported Chinese buses, which can be bought for close to $90,000 less than the Australian market can provide."
Mr Hoffmann said of major concern was the fact that schools currently had some bus operators buying imported vehicles with State Governments funds - that is, Australian taxpayer dollars.
"We all need to know our children are going to Australian schools in buses imported from China, funded by the Australian taxpayer!"
He was highly critical of the anomaly in the procurement process, which required local tenderers to use a percentage of Australian- or New Zealand-made components yet did not stipulate a similar criteria for bus companies buying new buses.
He said while he and others intended to fight for their existence, the recent refusal by the Prime Minister Julia Gillard to hold an inquiry into the future of Australian manufacturing did not bode well.
Three weeks ago Ms Gillard argued against an inquiry, saying it would delay action to help those who had lost their jobs.
"But what about the businesses that provide the jobs - it's sad the government won't direct some help there," Mr Hoffmann said.
Last year 190 buses were delivered, this year that number had dropped to 90, with 42 imported from China.
FROM THE LOCAL MP. . .
Comments from Andrew Stoner, Deputy Premier and Member for Oxley:
"I am deeply concerned about the loss of jobs in the Nambucca.
"My office has spoken with the management of Express Coaches and I will be having some discussions with them, along with my Federal colleague Luke Hartsuyker, in the near future.
"Express Coaches are an innovative local company delivering products of the highest international standard and they employ a considerable number of people in our community.
"With regard to the issues the company has raised regarding private bus companies that operate govern- ment-subsidised school bus runs, that currently don't have the same local content standards applied as State Transit, I intend looking into this matter after further discussions with Express Coaches."