Greenpeace is disappointed that Jacinda Ardern is buckling under pressure from Rio Tinto to provide cheap power for its Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter. The environmental organisation says the deal needs to come with strings attached.
The Labour Party announced today that, if elected, it would negotiate a deal with Rio Tinto for it to keep producing aluminium at Tiwai Point for the next three to five years. Labour says this is a stop-gap measure as it plans for a Just Transition that would create new jobs in Southland, following the smelter owner’s announcement that it would be quitting the region.
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner, Amanda Larsson, says it’s disappointing to see the Labour Party buckling under the same pressure that National did less than ten years ago.
In 2013, the smelter received a $30 million subsidy from the Key government. Subsequent Government Ministers from both National and Labour have told Rio Tinto not to expect more handouts. Today’s announcement is a u-turn on this policy.
“Rio Tinto is one of the world’s most profitable companies, and yet, every three years or so, it holds New Zealand jobs to ransom to get Government handouts and cheap power prices,” says Larsson.
“Ultimately it’s the rest of New Zealand that has to pay for Rio Tinto’s bargain-bin power prices – either through household energy bills or through their taxes.”
Larsson says Rio Tinto is a polluting company that has refused to take responsibility for its impact on the environment and local communities.
Three senior Rio Tinto executives were recently forced to resign after the company destroyed a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in the company’s home country, Australia, causing an international outcry and prompting a board investigation.
“Here in New Zealand, Rio Tinto has refused to deal with 8,500 tonnes of toxic waste stored in the Mataura paper mill, risking Southland’s environment and people’s health,” says Larsson.
The company is also subsidised for its climate emissions through a 90 percent free allocation under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“We’re in the middle of a climate crisis and Rio Tinto has been given a free pass to spew climate pollution into the atmosphere.
“Any Government support for Tiwai needs to have strings attached. Rio Tinto must be required to properly deal with its toxic waste for good. The smelter also needs to start paying for its carbon pollution, like other companies do.”
Larsson says if Labour is in Government next term, it must ensure this deal is the Government’s last with Rio Tinto.
“If Labour is serious about a just transition plan for Southland, they need to create new employment opportunities now, so that massive corporations can’t just keep holding jobs to ransom in exchange for more Government handouts.”