Where’s the plan for Southland post-smelter?

Grant Robertson on the shutdown of Tiwai Point and loss of thousands of jobs – ‘too bad, move on’.

Jacinda Ardern on the shutdown:

While Tinto have just announced they will close their Tiwai Point aluminium smelter next year this was a well signalled possibility. The Government response (acceptance of the decision) suggested they were well aware this announcement was coming.

Grant Robertson said Government will support the people and economy of Southland:

The Government will support the Southland economy in the wake of multinational mining company Rio Tinto’s decision to follow through with its long signalled closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

“This day has unfortunately been on the cards for some time now, but nevertheless the final decision is a blow to Southland and all those who work at the smelter,” Grant Robertson said.

Stuff: Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt ‘absolutely shattered’ by news of Tiwai Aluminium Smelter closure

Labour list MP Liz Craig, who is based in Invercargill also said she was devastated by the closure news and said her thoughts were with the workers, families, and businesses affected.

Craig acknowledged it will have a huge impact on the Southland economy.

She spoke with prime minister Jacinda Ardern this morning about the impact this will have on Southland.

“I am pleased that [Finance Minister] Grant Robertson has already signalled the Government will support the Southland community in our transition, in areas such as agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing.’’

Craig has invited Adern and Robertson to visit in Invercargill to discuss how the Government might help support those affected, grow local jobs, and create a sustainable Southland economy.

Ardern visited the smelter when they reopened a fourth potline in December 2018 – that was good news. Will she frobt up when the news is bad? So far she has left it to Robertson, who seems quite relaxed about.

Bernard Hickey: Newsroom: Why is Labour letting Tiwai Pt shut now?

Finance Minister Grant Robertson seemed much more philosophical and accepting of the news when he spoke a couple of hours later. It became clear that both the Government and Rio Tinto had called each others’ bluffs, leaving Southlanders incredulous.

“This is a blow for the people of Southland and I feel for them, but we need to look to the future,” Robertson said.

“There is a certain sense of inevitability about today’s announcement. Rio Tinto have been trying to sell Tiwai Point for about 10 years now,” he said.

The Government is spending $62b to cushion the impact of Covid-19 on the rest of the economy, including handing out over $12 billion to small to medium enterprises to keep often near-minimum wage jobs going for a few weeks.

But it appears unwilling to consider spending a few tens of millions to keep at least 2,600 highly paid jobs going in a region with few other alternatives for such high-wage jobs.

Robertson talked airily on Thursday about the prospects for agriculture and aquaculture, but in reality those jobs will be much lower wage and have yet to be invented.

He has talked repeatedly about his personal desire to avoid the mistakes made during the 1990-91 recession when manufacturing jobs were gutted in the regions and little was done to soften the blow.

The risk for the Government and those remaining high-wage jobs in the regions in the next three months is that the announcement of closures of Tiwai Point (2,600 jobs), Marsden Point (3,500 jobs) and the Glenbrook Steel Mill (3,900 jobs) could potentially all come in the next six months.

The worst recession since 1990-91 could easily be just as damaging for the regions as that one.

So far the Government response has basically been ‘too bad, move on’.

ODT editorial: Post-smelter plan must be readied

Southland does not need woolly promises of help and platitudinous pep talks. It needs a concrete plan to meet and then beat the economic and social destruction left when New Zealand Aluminium Smelters’ closes Tiwai Point.

The looming costs are hinted at in the figures most often pitched as reasons to move heaven and earth to keep the smelter online. Previous estimates suggest it accounts for more than 6% of the region’s GDP, and well over $400million to the region’s economy.

That cash keeps people in work and businesses in profit. It helps people pay their mortgages and their grocery bills, helps them support local schools and pay their sports club subscriptions, and keeps them working in and contributing to the South.

These people, families and communities do not have long to consider the effect of losing the smelter. NZAS will terminate its electricity contract with Meridian Energy in August 2021, when the wind-down is complete.

They have little time to decide what to do next and an uncertain time in which to do it. They need no reminding we face a prolonged pandemic-induced recession, and that finding good work and a strong income may be difficult.

But there has been plenty of time to prepare for the inevitability that Tiwai would be shut down.

There is little time to prepare for a post-smelter future but successive Governments have had the best part of a decade to ensure there was a plan to cope with, and then fill the gap left when Rio Tinto pulled the plug on its regionally and nationally significant operation at Tiwai Point.

Treasury, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Ministry of Social Development officials have had plenty of time, regardless of which parties were in Government, to forge all manner of strategies for a post-smelter future. They, and a succession of politicians, have had years to prepare for the inevitable.

As such, Southlanders have every right to expect Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson to outline robust, detailed plans when they take up Labour Invercargill List MP Liz Craig’s invitation to visit Invercargill and ‘‘discuss how the Government might help us support those affected, grow local jobs and create a sustainable future for the Southland economy’’.

If not, Southlanders have every right to feel let down by a multi-national company and by the governments that saw this coming.

Robertson seems untroubled by the problems faced by Southland.

What about Ardern? I can’t find any response from her on the shutdown announcement. Nothing since her good news PR money handout announcement on Thursday – NZ Herald: Government to bail out councils with $761m water services investment:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a $761 million investment to help councils upgrade “run down” water services across the country.

In a politically charged piece of symbolism, Ardern and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta chose the site of the water bore found to be the source of the fatal Havelock North campylobacter outbreak in 2016 to make the announcement on Wednesday.

“Investing in water infrastructure is about investing in the health of New Zealanders.”

Southlanders are New Zealanders. They received very bad news this week. Ardern was nowhere to be seen.


Leave a comment


  1. John J Harrison

     /  11th July 2020

    Typical of Ardern.
    Picture perfect when dispensing our hard earned money , opening a new kindergarten but a million miles away when the bad news requires addressing.
    Look what she did with her infamous “ captains call “ for the oil and gas industry in Taranaki, totally destroyed a large number of high paying jobs directly and indirectly involved with the business.
    So too with Southland.
    No votes there for the COL so just move on.
    The economic carnage from her inept handling of economic matters in both provinces will last for decades and cumulatively accelerate our forthcoming economic depression which, in turn , will adversely affect us all.

    • Blazer

       /  11th July 2020

      Please elaborate…what solution can you offer…..!!

      • John J Harrison

         /  11th July 2020

        Blazer, if I was the PM , living in the country’s largest state house on circa $500,000 PA I would not be so dumb as to make irrational “ Captains Calls “ on a mere whim and for the delight of socialists world – wide.
        Believing she knows better than economists and the oil and gas industry was the genesis of her disastrous bid for attention.
        Maybe if she stuck to her self – claimed portfolio of Child Poverty we would all be in a far better place.
        Remind me again Blazer as to how Child Poverty as been eliminated as we were repeatedly promised by Jacinda.

        • Pink David

           /  11th July 2020

          “Remind me again Blazer as to how Child Poverty as been eliminated as we were repeatedly promised by Jacinda.”

          Jacinda will preside over the greatest increase in child poverty of any PM in NZ history.

    • Fight4nz

       /  11th July 2020

      “No votes there for the COL so just move on.
      The economic carnage from her inept handling of economic matters…”
      I am confused what you are advocating the COL do?
      Strong blue electorate. Will abhor government interference, wedded to the perfection of so-called market forces. So Jacinda should stay away while they celebrate the market in action, right? But you seem to be saying she should be front and centre in a private commercial event? And how did her handling of economic matters have anything to do with Rio Tinto’s decision?
      I see where you went wrong with the Taranaki decision. That call was about saving the planet, as they see it, not about economics at all.

  2. Corky

     /  11th July 2020

    I heard someone report Invercargill may potentially lose 8000 people.

    By the looks of him recently, I think Mayor Tim Shadbolt should step down.Looking at the tsunami heading Southlands way, young legs will be required at the helm.

  3. NOEL

     /  11th July 2020

    So the decision to close was made within the last week. It’s not due to close until August 2021. Surely adequate time for developing options?

    • Duker

       /  11th July 2020

      The decision ‘to close’ hasnt been made, they have just given the power company 18 months or something notice for the power supply contract that they are ‘considering’ closing.

      Still waiting for those predictions for Taranaki to come true after 2 years, the drilling companies had previously high tailed it out of town when the oil price crashed, as thats how they fund speculative and expensive exploration. They werent even affected as the exploration was for NEW licenses was the one cancelled.
      The usual clueless operators, some who seem to be living high on the hog in Hawkes Bay not Taranaki just repeat false claims which originate in the Nats ‘dirty tricks network’- a classic example of which this week.

  4. Tom Hunter

     /  11th July 2020

    A government plan?

    Sheesh. That’s we got into this mess in the first place. I’m sure that the Nash and Holyoake governments never imagined a time when an overseas company they’d lured here would give up the ghost because of cheaper sites in the rest of the world.

    Think of it as a version of sustainability. The smelter never was, not even at the start when their original plan of building their own hydro power supply fell through and the National government of the day stepped up and said they’d build it.

    The only “plan” that is sustainable is one that people figure out on their own. The best thing government can do is get the hell out of the way.

  5. artcroft

     /  11th July 2020

    I believe Ardern has sent thoughts and prayers southwards.

  6. Duker

     /  11th July 2020

    Whats the Plan ?
    Why should there be A PLAN 3 days after NZAS says ( yet again before an election) its given notice of its intention to quit.
    The accounts show accumulated losses of $300 mill plus- its never paid in any tax for decades and likely doesnt pay GST , but gets paid a credit either because the product is exported.
    Clearly NZAS AND Meridian will be playing all the PR cards to advance their cause for the government to ‘pay to stay’-
    My plan is ‘Get the Hell out of Here’, but before you do Pay to fix the site and not like the pot lines ‘dross’ which is someone elses problem as it was ‘sold’ and is now stored by the river in Gore.
    I havent even looked but I bet Kiwiblog is running the hand wringing and ‘whats the government going to do’ line….will a guest post magically appear?

  7. Duker

     /  11th July 2020

    Guess who also asked ‘Wheres the Plan’ but didnt have one either. Muller

    “Todd Muller, who floundered with a vague complaint about the Government not having a plan, even though the new National leader would not commit to ongoing subsidies either.”

    Nationals general plan?
    ““The framework comprises five components: responsible economic management; delivering infrastructure; reskilling and retraining our workforce; a greener, smarter future; and building stronger communities.”
    Greener smarter future is hogwash
    Building stronger communities is eye wash
    But no subsidies for NZAS either….yep, they have done that before , and like blackmailers they keep coming back for more.


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