National leader keen for Tiwai negotiations

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National Party leader Judith Collins told Southland leaders, when she spoke in Invercargill last week, her party would facilitate negotiations to keep Southland’s Tiwai Point aluminium smelter open if elected next month.

THE National Party leader says her visit to Southland was to “bring hope” through the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter turbulence.

Judith Collins was in Invercargill last Friday, where the party announced its proposed policy in relation to the potential closure of New Zealand’s Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) owned by Rio Tinto.

However, what that looked like remained to be seen.

While she said her party could “facilitate negotiations” with Rio Tinto, power companies and Transpower to achieve a “fair” transmission price to keep the Tiwai Point smelter open for “at least” five more years, she did not explain how it would achieve that.

Ms Collins said she would rely on her and deputy leader Gerry Brownlee’s experiences as Energy and Resources Ministers.

She and Mr Brownlee, along with energy spokesman Jonathan Young, spoke at Yunca Group’s head office in Invercargill.

When questioned on Tiwai, Ms Collins guaranteed a bailout or subsidy for Rio Tinto was completely off the table.

“Well for a start, we need people who know how to do negotiations and know how to get stuff done and that is us.

“We’ve never been pro subsidies.”

Mr Brownlee said the commercial elements of the negotiation were the electricity and transmission prices, along with “some aspects of carbon charges”.

“All of those things are able to be negotiated from the Government perspective. That is what we want to sit down and earnestly do.”

He highlighted Transpower was a state entity — ‘‘it is called a state-owned enterprise, which is a total monopoly’’.

“There’s an opportunity to sit at the table and work out what is reasonable.”

Both said they had not yet had any conversations with Rio Tinto.

“But we know enough about the industry in this situation to understand their concerns.”

Ms Collins also slammed the “just transition” package mentioned by Labour to Southland leaders to help diversify the economy last month.

She acknowledged the necessity and potential, but she labelled the package “the Government spin for destroying our industry”.

Ms Collins said she was not just campaigning.

“I’m not going to make promises that are just forgotten tomorrow.”

Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt said he was really “heartened” by the announcement, while Regional Leadership Group spokesman and Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks said it was “encouraging”.

However, he highlighted something would need to be done by the end of the year.

In a media statement following the meeting, Rio Tinto’s managing director Pacific operations Kellie Parker welcomed “support from all political parties to achieve a fairer transmission cost”.

“Over the past decade, Rio Tinto has spent nearly $4 billion in the New Zealand economy, with over $3 billion of that going towards the electricity market. On transmission costs alone, Rio Tinto has paid $610 million over the past 10 years.”

She said, in the short term, it needed to provide certainty to its people and the community as soon as possible.

“In order to achieve a longer staged exit, which the Government and the Southland community have told us they would prefer, Rio Tinto needs a fixed and fair price so we don’t continue to lose money over that longer timeframe.”

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