Govt keen to ‘future-proof’ economy

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Finance Minister Grant Robertson speaks about Tiwai Aluminium Smelter's closure at a breakfast promoted by Otago Southland Employers' Association on Monday.

THE Government stance is unchanged be no direct subsidies provided to keep the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter open.

However, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this did not mean the Government was not working through options to help the region get an extension on the closure date, including a “just transition package”.

Mr Robertson was in Invercargill on Monday for a breakfast meeting hosted by the Otago Southland Employers’ Association.

Along with Minister for Energy and Resources Megan Woods, he had what was described as a “constructive meeting” with Southland leaders to discuss the region’s economic opportunities.

Rio Tinto, which owns the New Zealand Aluminium Smelter at Tiwai Point, announced last month it would be closing the plant next year.

Mr Robertson said the Government was working “constructively” with the smelter owners, but if Rio Tinto decided to go, the Government would like the transition to be done “in a way that supports and protects the economy in Southland”.

Those conversations were “ongoing” but, at the same time, the Government was keen to make the region’s economy “future-proof”, he said.

“We also know as a region, that you want to expand the base of the industry, regardless of what will happen with the smelter.

“That means looking at other options, that means thinking about what you might do with that power if the smelter wasn’t here hydrogen, be it in the data centre, Tesla or whatever else is going around.”

When later asked if the Government would consider a subsidy to help the smelter remain open for longer, he said: “No. We are sticking to our view. The Government won’t be providing direct subsidies.

“So we are here to talk to see what we can do to support this community and, as I say, the best outcome for me is a managed exit but not an abrupt one.”

After the meeting with ministers, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said all parties agreed a long-term, managed transition was preferable.

Mr Robertson confirmed the Government supported a managed transition and that negotiations were ongoing.

“In addition, there was also discussion around Government support for a just transition package for Southland that would be used to implement some of the projects identified in the Southland Regional Development Strategy.”

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