Winston Peters pledges 20-year deal for Tiwai smelter, takes crack at political opponents 'scrambling' to find solution

Winston Peters is pledging a 20-year agreement to keep the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter open, and has taken a crack at his political opponents "scrambling" to find a solution. 

The New Zealand First leader delivered a speech in Invercargill on Wednesday promising to save the smelter if re-elected to Government and commit to a 20-year plan to keep the facility in operation. 

A 20-year deal is more than the five year transition period sought by the Gore District Council which would allow time to make grid investments so that electricity freed up by the closure of Tiwai could be transported north. 

"We are committed to a 20-year agreement. Yes, 20 years. Not five, not closure. But a 20-year agreement with a 10-year review and with a fair electricity cost based on the cost of supply and a respectable margin," Peters said. 

The facility at the Tiwai Peninsula, across the harbour from Bluff in Southland, is New Zealand's only aluminium smelter. It is 79.36 percent owned by Rio Tinto and 20.64 percent owned by Japan's Sumitomo Chemical Company.

Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect Government subsidies over the years, including a $30 million bailout under former Prime Minister John Key, Rio Tinto announced plans to shut up shop because of high energy costs. 

The smelter is set to shut in August 2021 and the Government has so far refused to give it any more bailouts. But with approximately 2260 full-time equivalent jobs affected, Peters believes the solution is to keep it operating.  

"Tiwai contributes over $450 million annually to Southland and we're going to ensure that grows, not stops," he said. "If you vote for New Zealand First we will amplify your voice so that it cannot be drowned out, silenced or ignored."

Peters said Tiwai had become the "focal point for politicians of all stripes" ever since Rio Tinto announced their intention to shut the facility next year. 

"The Labour Party come down to Invercargill to woo you in mid-July with talk of a 'Just Transition,' although a transition to what, when, and how, was and remains far less clear."

He then took aim at National leader Judith Collins' plan to broker a deal to keep the smelter open for another five years.

"Let me tell you from first-hand experience National are not skilled negotiators. That's why, despite a good election result, they've spent the past three years in futile opposition," Peters said. 

He then attacked ACT who "couldn't even be bothered to come and see you, instead issuing a decree from Epsom that Government regulation could save the day". 

ACT leader and Epsom MP David Seymour has called Peters' stance on Tiwai "ironic". 

"Peters is campaigning like he is in Opposition," he said last month. "Has he forgotten that he has been the Deputy Prime Minister for the past three years?" 

Peters saved his final denigration for the Greens, making a joke about Green Party co-leader James Shaw facing backlash for advocating giving almost $12 million to a privately-run Green School in Taranaki. 

Newshub revealed the Green School hosted a 'sacred ceremony' run by a school parent who believes COVID-19 is manufactured, who also planned a $15,000 tour of New Zealand that included planting crystals with students.

"As far as we can tell, the Greens also want to transition you because they think closing down the smelter is a good thing. They want to see it and you closed down," Peters said. 

"Fancy instead a large environmentally-friendly factory pumping out crystals while you send your kids to Green Schools, if you can afford it? No, didn't think so."