Building resilience key to future

(From left) Toni Biddle, of Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), E tu organiser Anna Huffstutler, Hokonui Runanga executive director Terry Nicholas, Jason Leppens, of MBIE, Awarua Runaka Bubba Thompson, Amanda Whitaker, of The Southern Institute of Technology, Janice Burton, of the Southern District Health Board, Julz Orr, of South Alive, Nadia Steedman, of Frontline, and Victor Manawatu, of Te Runanga o Waihopai, discussed the future of Southland's economy in Bluff last week.

SOUTHLAND stakeholders gathered last week to brainstorm about the future of the region’s economy, to make it more resilient after the Tiwai smelter’s closure.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) promoted the first of three workshops to discuss the “just transition” approach in Southland at Bluff’s Te Rau Aroha Marae last Thursday.

Representatives from iwi, councils, chambers of commerce, education providers, unions and MBIE took part in the workshop to identify opportunities to “empower” the region.

The Government announced the Just Transition strategy in the region last year, after Rio Tinto announced it would be closing its operations at the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter by 2024.

The news worried southern leaders and the community, as the smelter employs about 1000 workers directly, while also supporting 1600 workers through its suppliers in the region.

Closure was forecast to reduce the regional economy by $200 million.

Just Transition manager Shane Wilson said the aim of the strategy was transitioning the region towards a low-emission future, while empowering the region’s economy.

The meeting’s goal was to map and to understand opportunities for employment, tourism and training, among others.

“A key point for us is, whether Tiwai closes or stays open, we are setting the region up to be resilient to the changes. That’s the real purpose of that – mapping what’s happening across the place so we can better focus our efforts to support the region.”

It was not about the Government telling the region what to do – it was the region leading for the region, he said.

The budget was for $13.9 million over four years to help in the strategy. It included expanding the programme to other regions across the country, but had a special focus on the Southland approach.

Aquaculture, a data centre, a hydrogen plant and even a Tesla factory were previously raised as potential opportunities for the region.

However, Mr Wilson said nothing had been decided yet.

“These workshops are the beginning of us supporting the region to identify some priorities and after those priorities [have been set], we will have a better idea on how we can be behind some of those.”

Subjects like the clean-up or the purchase of Tiwai Point land were not discussed.

Awarua Runaka representative Bubba Thompson said the community needed to have these kind of conversations.

It was important to stimulate talks across different sectors, he said.

E tu organiser Anna Huffstutler agreed and said the stakeholders needed to have a unified approach.

“I think it is important to bring all the stakeholders together… which will benefit everyone, including workers, businesses and the community. Everyone has to be looked after.”

The next meetings will take place on July 8, at Bluff Marae, and July 21, at a location yet to be confirmed.