New Zealand needs to be more aggressive in pursuing economic opportunities and resist the short-term thinking affecting some of its major industry, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters says.
The planned closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter will have massive spill-over effects on the rest of the economy and can be averted through a simple negotiation with owner Rio Tinto, Peters told Wellington Chamber of Commerce members this morning.
Aluminium prices, like those of other commodities, are volatile but they will rise again. He said the same issue confronts the Marsden Point oil refinery, where operator Refining NZ is considering conversion to an import terminal, and New Zealand Steel, where owner BlueScope Steel is looking at options to reduce capacity to ensure the long-term viability of the mill at Glenbrook.
Peters said the notion of shutting or scaling back those businesses reflects the thinking of "politicians bereft of any vision at all."
Shutting Tiwai Point, which makes some of the world's purest aluminium, makes no sense and would be a "tragedy" for thousands of families in Southland whose livelihoods depend on it, he said. He plans a meeting in Invercargill on Friday.
"It's over to the people of Southland, and over to the workers, whether they are going to get off their broad half-acre and make a stand for themselves. But I believe it can be saved."
Rio Tinto has said it plans to shut the smelter in August next year and has given power supplier Meridian Energy the 12 months' notice required under its contract. The plant, one of the country's biggest exporters, employs close to 1,000 and is estimated to underpin another 1,600 jobs in the region.
Peters told this morning's audience that politics is difficult, but that that the past three years had been the most difficult he had experienced given he had been "surrounded by plain inexperience."
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The economy was already struggling before the covid-19 pandemic and it was important that his NZ First party remained in government to ensure practical, commonsense policy and a handbrake on whatever "stupid" ideas an incoming Labour-Green government would deliver, he said.
Peters expected most of the audience would be hostile to his party, but said it was important they understood the potential "nightmare" government of blind ideologues, fads and theorists they could face after September.
He wasn't asking to be loved or even liked but said no-one in the room could use the excuse they hadn't been warned.
"What matters is that you've got people in government who have got some experience and know something about how the world works, not ideologues and theorists," he said.
"The National Party hasn't lost 19 members between the two elections because they think they are going to win - so why do you?
"The only insurance you've got – you're looking at."