NZ PM to postpone Rio Tinto exit if re-elected

New Zealand Aluminium Smelter. Image: Rio Tinto

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern plans to delay the closure of Rio Tinto’s New Zealand Aluminium Smelter (NZAS) at Tiwai Point by three to five years if she gets re-elected.

In a press conference from Invercargill in New Zealand’s South Island yesterday, Ardern confirmed that she and her government would “work hard” to give the local workers and the Southland community “an exit that would help everyone to plan for the future”.

Last October, Rio Tinto began reviewing the future of the New Zealand smelter, which was struggling under the aluminium market conditions and high energy costs, making the asset unprofitable.

In July, the mining giant announced a planned wind-down of the NZAS operations and its eventual closure, which is scheduled for next August.

“Rio Tinto has suggested they look to leave within a year,” Ardern said.

“The view of the local community, which is a view we share, is that we would all benefit from having additional time and a managed exit from Tiwai Point.

“We are here to commit to support that managed exit through Transpower and it is our intention to see a negotiation with Rio Tinto for an exit of between three to five years.

“That will ensure we don’t have additional costs incurred for the rest of the network through a quick exit but also ensure we have the time needed to replace the jobs here in Southland with high quality, highly skilled opportunities.”

Ardern said that the government would work closely with Rio Tinto to give local workers as much certainty as possible while meeting bottom lines such as environmental remediation, maintaining employment and working on the future use of the site.

NZAS is 79.36 per cent owned by Rio Tinto and 20.64 per cent owned by Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical Company, which employ around 990 full time equivalent employees and contractors work at the smelter.

NZAS converts alumina into aluminium using renewable hydroelectricity, making it one of the world’s lowest carbon footprint aluminium smelters.

The smelter’s alumina is supplied from refineries in Queensland and Western Australia.

Approximately 90 per cent of the aluminium produced at NZAS is exported.

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