Government in Southland with message of scant hope, no plan after smelter closure

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Regional Economic Minister Shane Jones and a bunch Labour and NZ First MPs fronted up in Southland yesterday to try to address the planned closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter, after Robertson had signalled on Tuesday the visit was not to save the smelter.

From a distance Winston Peters didn’t help with unified commiserations, suggesting that the Government buy the smelter. Peters has a reputation for being an astute reader of public sentiment in election campaigns, but I’m not sure Southlanders will buy that.

Stuff: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson arrive in Invercargill amidst smelter closure

Senior Government ministers have arrived in Invercargill to talk with Southland leaders in regards to the closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson landed at Invercargill Airport on Wednesday night.

When asked, after she got off the plane, if she was in Southland to save the smelter, she said: “you’ll probably have a chance to see us tomorrow when we’ve got our stand up”.

Stuff asked Grant Robertson what he would say to Southland business leaders, he replied: “It’s a good opportunity for us to hear from all of the business leaders we’re seeing, and various others, and get a feel for the situation, and then we’ll have some stuff to say to you after that”.

Robertson signalled on Tuesday the visit was not to save the smelter.

A spokesperson from Robertson’s office said the plant was not closing until August next year, which meant there was already some transition time.

So that wasn’t a positive start for the visit. And coverage was dominated by Peters despite him not being there.

ODT:  Ardern distances herself from Peters’ smelter buy-out comments

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is distancing herself from the position of her Deputy, Winston Peters, over comments he made about the Tiwai Point smelter.

In an op-ed for the New Zealand Herald, Peters suggested that the Government should step in and save the Southland smelter, currently owned by Rio Tinto.

“A buy-out would give those who have the most stake in the success of the smelter, the people of Southland, the opportunity to directly benefit from owning and managing it,” he said.

But, speaking to reporters in Southland this morning, Ardern distanced herself – and in effect the Government – from Peters’ comments.

Asked specifically about what she thought of the Deputy Prime Minister’s column, Ardern replied that she had seen the position of “the leader of New Zealand First”.

In other words, Ardern was making it clear that Peters’ comments were made in his capacity as a party leader and not as a Government spokesman.

The Prime Minister added that the Government stepping in, in the way suggested by Peters, “wasn’t the nature of the conversation that was had with leaders here [in Southland] today”.

She said any talks about a bailout were not part of the conversation today either.
“For us, it was all about what happens next.”

She mentioned the fact a “transition” is needed in Southland, in terms of the jobs in the region.

With both Ardern and Robertson talking of ‘transition’ with no sign of an attempt to rescue the smelter it looks like a done deal.

There was never any chance the Government would buy the smelter. Peters will know that, he is just playing to Southland voters, but they are likely to see through him.

The Government deputation looked grim (see the ODT video).

Ardern said this morning that the Government has long had plans to help develop new economic opportunities in Southland.

She said the question now is: “How do we expedite those”.

One of the ways she suggested this could occur was through initiatives such as: R&D for food production, aquaculture, data centres and work on New Zealand’s Space agency.

But she said: “We are all in agreement that a transition [in Southland] is needed”.

So it looks like they went with no plan and nothing new to offer.

The  E tū union is affiliated to the Labour Party and even they look like they have given up on the smelter and downstream jobs and businesses that are a huge part of the Southland economy.

Stuff: Tiwai workers ‘have more clarity’ after meeting with PM

Tiwai employee and E tū union delegate Cliff Dobbie says the Government is doing all it can to get Southland going as the aluminium smelter prepares to wind down operations.

Dobbie felt he had a clearer picture of future options for his crew after meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson at the E tū office in Invercargill on Thursday.

While he is nearing retirement himself, Dobbie said he was worried about future income for his crew members – many of whom were under the age of 40.

But after the informal meeting over tea and biscuits, he was fairly confident they would be looked after.

“I feel a lot clearer. They didn’t beat about the bush,” Dobbie said.

E tū organiser Anna Huffstutler said the meeting focused on what a just transition would look like and who needed to be sitting around the table for those discussions.

“It’s about bringing the community and stakeholders together and creating a roadmap,” Huffstutler said.

“Government is fully supportive of that.”

Timelines for these plans would be determined by negotiations between Meridian and Rio Tinto around how the smelter will be shut down, she said.

E tū organiser Mike Kirkword said it was too early to nail down where and how Tiwai staff would be absorbed into the Southland economy.

So no fight, no hope, no plan, just acquiescence and vague platitudes from the Government and despite the closure being signalled for years.




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  1. John J Harrison

     /  17th July 2020

    Ardern said the government “ has long had plans to help the area.”
    I call bovine manure on that untruth.
    If not, then what are they ?
    Nothing but pathetic head nodding and frowning looks during the so- called stand up.
    What a total waste of tax payer funded airfares for this bunch of cabinet ministers.
    Fact, they have known of the withdrawal for over 18 months and have zero idea as to how to address the issue.
    NZ Steel will be the next to go .

    • lurcher1948

       /  17th July 2020

      I think National should put up a better attack post team,the negativity is becoming predictable.The PM knows Rio Tinto is trying to screw NZ again after National gave them a handout last time.

    • Blazer

       /  17th July 2020

      a lie-‘they have known of the withdrawal for over 18 months ‘

      This ongoing extortion from Rio is hopefully coming to an end.

      Up to 1000 jobs are affected.The resilience of southlanders will cope and the Govt has signalled investment in the region.

      National indicated they would follow the same path as the Govt.

  2. David

     /  17th July 2020

    Crikey just look at that photo. “I am here from the government and I am here to help”.
    Ardern mentioned aquaculture well she needs to reform the RMA so you can actually do it, its an incredibly tortuous process which given how much coastline we have is crazy. Be nice if she actually turned up with concrete ways of making it work in Southland.
    Microsoft are coming here with a data centre at some point has she reached out with incentives to any other big players given her huge international profile and the 100% renewable energy.

    • Blazer

       /  17th July 2020

      ‘Crikey just look at that photo’-if they were smiling you can imagine the…commentary.

  3. David

     /  17th July 2020

    Where was Twyford ? This is a job for him.
    Jones looks worried that he didnt bring his passport, strange man in a strange land.
    Megan Woods has her gob shut which is unusual.
    The odd looking fella at the back looks like he is checking out Arderns butt.
    You can tell its Southland with the lady in the lively jacket from H and J Smiths designer ranger is sporting that still popular in the south 80s frizz.
    Robertson just looks annoyed he has to babysit this no nothing crowd in case they blurt out something that costs him. It was probably him that vetoed Twyford coming along despite him holding the economic development portfolio, no sign of Parker either.

    • Blazer

       /  17th July 2020

      whose that 2nd from right…Lady Penelope!

      • Screech

         /  17th July 2020

        It’s Labour list MP Dr Liz Craig. She’s a local. She was also the adult caretaker at the Labour Youth booze up

      • ‘Lack of care’taker ?

        Who leaves teenagers and young adults with unlimited free alcohol and is surprised when the inevitable happens ?

        • The PDTs must have lovely trusting natures if they imagine that leaving teenagers with an open, free bar won’t end in tears. Or they may see nothing wrong with a political party doing this.

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  17th July 2020

    Of course Labour has a plan. It always does. It’s called welfare. It will employ more bureaucrats and cut immigration. The economy will become less productive and less innovative. New ideas will be actively discouraged and blocked unless they expand bureaucracy and reduce freedoms.

    • Alan Foster

       /  17th July 2020

      Wilco, do you mean Corporate Welfare?

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  17th July 2020

        There’s always some of that too. Fletchers is the usual recipient together with the consultancy, contracting and “environmental” industries.

  5. Someone should tell Shane Jones that it’s not done to wear a hat indoors unless one is an Orthodox Jew, which he isn’t. It makes him look rude and ignorant.

  6. I can’t remember how much [deleted] has borrowed to make up for the lockdown, but if some is earmarked for jobs in Southland, why can’t it go to keeping the smelter ones going ? As someone said on the news, it’s easier to keep jobs going than make new ones. For once, I am in agreement with Winston Peters. Why not buy the smelter rather than faff around with new job schemes ?

    • Blazer

       /  17th July 2020

      Bill English said no more subsidies…I sawed it on the…News.

    • Gerrit

       /  17th July 2020

      Why would you want a smelter that you cannot make money on. Remember you have to buy the Bauxite at market rate compared with Rio Tinto who only have the mined cost plus transfer pricing costs.

      Next you have to sell your more expensive aluminum ingots to Rio Tinto’s customers. Can only be done on price. Quality might be high but the market wont pay a much higher premium for that quality.

      Rio Tinto will gladly sell the smelter (coming to its end of useful life) for it saves them $250M in site remediation cost. New Zealand does not even want to buy it for a single dollar. It will never make money plus you have to make provision on the balance sheet $250M for future site remediation costs.

      New Zealand was dumb enough (thanks Cullen) to buy a dilapidated rail system for maximum dollars from Toll Holdings. Lets not make that mistake again.

      • For the record, I didn’t use any derogatory word/s about those who borrowed the money, just used the proper name.It’s a known fact that a huge amount has been borrowed and it’s known who borrowed it. Who else could it be ? They told us about it.

        • Blazer

           /  17th July 2020

          National want to borrow 30 billion and spend it on roads to ease congestion…oh the irony…I saw it on the…news.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  17th July 2020

            It’s good you can watch, B. You might learn something.

            Probably not this though:


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