Cunliffe wants more help for smelter

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 05/10/2012

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Labour's economic development spokesman David Cunliffe will visit the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter today.

He says the Government can do more to help the struggling business despite its comments it can do little about the situation.

The cash-strapped smelter is trying to renegotiate its electricity supply contract with state-owned enterprise Meridian Energy. It employs 750 people directly and is crucial to the Southland economy.

Smelter owners Rio Tinto Alcan announced in September it planned to lose 100 jobs by November, 35 of which had already gone through natural attrition.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce has ruled out any bailouts or subsidies for the smelter.

Mr Cunliffe said he would not advocate the Government stepping in and writing a cheque to Rio Tinto, but there were other ways it could make the smelter more competitive.

"I am not saying the Government should race in and write a cheque tomorrow; the contract is a matter between Meridian and Rio Tinto. [But] we have to get away from the idea writing a big fat subsidy cheque is the only tool in the Government toolbox; it's not."

He said he wanted to talk to people in Southland and at the smelter before offering more opinion on the smelter's problems.

Invercargill MP Eric Roy has previously said there was little the Government could do to affect the situation.

Yesterday, Mr Roy said he had spoken to State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall at least twice about the smelter.

"It's not been unwelcome and we've had reasonably positive discussions," he said. "My understanding is that negotiations are taking place between the smelter and Meridian, but I am aware they've had discussions with all their suppliers."

He had not spoken directly to the prime minister but had talked to his chief of staff.

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- The Southland Times

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