‘We want to have a voice’: Ngai Tahu

Upoko o Awarua Ta (Sir) Tipene O’Regan speaks at the Murihiku Regeneration Science and Innovation Wananga in Invercargill.

WITH the hands of time ticking, the question as to what kind of transition is in store for Southland once the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter closes, poses an opportunity for sustainability and regeneration.

For Upoko o Awarua Ta (Sir) Tipene O’Regan and Ngai Tahu, economically, that future hinges on hydro.

A Murihiku Regeneration Science and Innovation Wananga was held last week to explore what was to come.

The group was formed in August 2020 between runanga and hapu members and a collaboration between Ngai Tahu ki Murihiku and Fortescue Future Industries wanted to work together to assess and possibly develop a large-scale, renewable, green hydrogen production project in the region.

This was one of seven areas of focus.

Programme director Terry Nicholas said the scale and scope of opportunity was for 5000 jobs to be created within five to seven years.

In his opening speech, Ta Tipene did not mince words as he stressed the importance of immediate change.

There needed to be transformation, including decarbonisation, to solve the challenge of the environmental degradation and destruction that had taken place as a consequence of what “we’ve done actively in collusion with Rio Tinto at Tiwai… but it was in collusion because we all wanted the foreign exchange that came from that activity”.

The way forward would need to include involvement of Ngai Tahu, he said.

“We have a future in this island and we want to have a voice.”

Energy and Resources, and Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods reiterated the Government’s pledge to a “just transition” after the planned closure of the smelter in 2024.

Dr Woods acknowledged Ngai Tahu’s dedication to working on the transition and its vision for a thriving, green, energy hub.

“This event comes at just the right time. I know there is lingering uncertainty in the region about the future of the Tiwai Point site, its remediation and its future uses.”

She clarified the Government did not plan on importing hydrogen.

The Government was working on a plan for a domestic hydrogen industry.

She called on Southlanders to come together to work out what investments and policy changes were needed from central government, local government, iwi and private investors for the desired transition.