A well-known lawyer hopes to solve one of the thorniest problems confronting Australian manufacturers of much-needed face masks
A well-known lawyer hopes to solve one of the thorniest problems confronting Australian manufacturers of much-needed face masks

Lawyer in deal to make nation’s first mask material plant

A well-known Brisbane lawyer hopes to solve one of the thorniest problems confronting Australian manufacturers of much-needed face masks.

Legal eagle Darren Fooks (illustrated) and his start-up company, OZ Health Plus, have just struck a deal that will see the development of the nation's first plant to make the essential fine plastic material used in most masks.

Currently that vital stuff creates a supply chain nightmare. It's only cranked out overseas and primarily in China, which is a bit on the nose right now for obvious reasons, as we all know.

OZ Health plans to import special machinery from Swiss-based tech outfit Oerlikon and open a production plant in Brisbane that will churn out what's considered to be the gold standard for the vital face coverings.

It's the same machinery used to make nearly all the face masks manufactured in Europe.

"Australia has access to raw polypropylene feedstock but lacks the plant to convert that raw material to specialised spunbond and meltblown fabric,'' said Fooks, a former longtime Clayton Utz partner who also launched his own legal firm this month.

"These fabrics are essential for local mask manufacturing. The Australian-based Oerlikon Nonwoven plant will fill the production chain gap….It will reduce Australia's protective mask supply chain from thousands of kilometres to tens of kilometres.''

APRIL LAUNCH

Fooks told City Beat this week that he and his business partners have raised about $15m from a combination of private equity investors and loans to get a 15,000sq m facility up and running by April.

They have narrowed the short-list of possible sites to either Zillmere or a spot near the airport, with a final decision expected to be made in the next month or so.

Three engineers will fly out to assist from Oerlikon's division in Germany, where the company once made anti-aircraft guns and other armaments. (But please don't mention the war!)

N95 mask
N95 mask

Nearly $30m will also get rustled up for a second stage of the project, which is expected to kick off late next year. About 100 jobs should be created when it's completed.

OZ Health is already supplying some of the imported material to the country's six mask makers, which currently roll out about 500 million medical and industrial face coverings every year.

Another 42 companies making the likes of filtration products, sanitary items, antiseptic wipes and more are also ripe for deal-making once the OZ Health facility is operational.

GOING TO BAT

Quietly helping Fooks get all this off the ground are several arms of the state government, as well as DFAT.

It's not the first time Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has gone to bat for frontline workers requiring personal protective gear.

Back in April, her government provided $1.2 million to Logan-based Evolve Group to start making up to 60,000 disposable masks a day, especially the highly-sought N95 variety.

Even better for Evolve, Queensland Health and the Department of Housing and Public Works agreed to buy a whole bunch of the masks over the next three years.

BERRY NICE

Sixty years after launching a single pineapple farm, Sunshine Coast-based Pinata Farms is continuing to expand across the country.

The company recently announced plans to double production of raspberries in Tasmania as part of a joint venture with global berry breeding and marketing company BerryWorld.

Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr
Pinata Farms managing director Gavin Scurr

Pinata boss Gavin Scurr said the first harvest was in its final stages.

"Raspberries have been harvested continuously at Orielton for the past six months, and fruit quality and yield has exceeded expectations,'' he said.

"Given the farm was a greenfield site, there was a lot to make happen before the first harvest, including the erection of wind breaks to protect the crop.''

Full production won't be reached until 2024.

 

 

Originally published as Brisbane lawyer in deal to make nation's first mask material plant



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