Tiwai talks to continue

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    New Zealand's Aluminium Smelter at Tiwai Point. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

    SOUTHLAND leaders will meet government representatives soon to continue the conversations about the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.

    Southland Mayoral Forum chairman and Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks said a date would be set for a meeting this month.

    There had been little progress made since the forum met Labour Party representatives in September.

    “We are meeting with government representatives as soon as possible but as a local group we are still connecting quite regularly.”

    Rio Tinto announced in July it would close the plant near Bluff in August 2021 after it conducted a strategic review. The review showed the business was “no longer viable given high energy costs and a challenging outlook for the aluminium industry”.

    However, during its election campaign, the Labour Party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern committed to work with Rio Tinto and Transpower to reach an agreement.

    The party wanted to keep the smelter open for three to five years to protect about 1000 direct jobs and another 1600 indirect jobs, while also giving the community time to consider and plan its future.

    Mr Hicks was hopeful a resolution would be reached by the end of the year.

    “We are very optimistic given the signals that we were given during pre-election. I’m very optimistic that a solution is gonna be found.”

    Finance Minister Grant Robertson confirmed there were a range of discussions taking place between the Government and Rio Tinto.

    “But they are all commercial in nature so I won’t be going into any detail about them.

    “The Government has been clear for some time that a managed exit is better than an abrupt exit and so we want to work with the Southland community and Rio Tinto on what that looks like.”

    The Government would continue to engage with the Southland Regional Leadership Group about the economic opportunities which had been identified by the region itself, he said.

    It included options for a transition package which supported new high-wage jobs.

    A Rio Tinto spokeswoman said there were no updates on the matter at this stage.

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