How the Government plans to support Southland after Tiwai Point smelter closure

The Government has assured people it will be supporting the Southland community after the closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter,  saying there are job opportunities in agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing in the region.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Minister of Energy Megan Woods said the closure of the smelter was "an incredibly sad day for Southland".

Rio Tinto announced earlier on Thursday it would be winding down operations at the smelter as business was "no longer viable given high energy costs and a challenging outlook for the aluminium industry".

About 1000 people are directly employed by the smelter and it creates a further 1600 indirect jobs in Southland. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government was committed to helping those affected by the closure to transition to new work.

"It is now our job to work with the people of Southland to find new opportunities to assist in a just transition for them, and that is the commitment we are making today," he said.

"We know the strengths of Southland and we want to build on them in areas such as agriculture, aquaculture and manufacturing. There is also an opportunity to support other energy-intensive projects like green hydrogen and data centres."

He said the Government had been working with the people of Southland over the last three years with a number of aquaculture projects aimed at making that transition.

Robertson also pointed out the Government had given more information on its agriculture strategy earlier this week with its Fit for a Better World plan.

"We'll be working very closely with the people of Southland on this, just as we have over the last few years in terms of what's been possible in terms of Rio Tinto," he said.

"This is a significant employer in the Southland region and it's been a part of the New Zealand economy for some time. We make our judgments on where the Government best supplies its support, both on the short-term situation we face but also the long-term for the New Zealand economy. And while, as I say, this is a blow for the people of Southland and I feel for them we also now need to look to the future - both in terms of other job opportunities in the region... and the other uses that might be possible for what is about 13 percent of the electricity generated in New Zealand." 

The smelter is owned by Rio Tinto and Japan's Sumitomo Chemical Co.