Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is distancing herself from the position of her Deputy, Winston Peters, over comments he made about the Tiwai Point smelter.

In an op-ed for the Herald, Peters suggested that the Government should step in and save the Southland smelter, currently owned by Rio Tinto.

"A buy-out would give those who have the most stake in the success of the smelter, the people of Southland, the opportunity to directly benefit from owning and managing it," he said.

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But, speaking to reporters in Southland this morning, Ardern distanced herself – and in effect the Government – from Peters' comments.

Asked specifically about what she thought of the Deputy Prime Minister's column, Ardern replied that she had seen the position of "the leader of New Zealand First".

In other words, Ardern was making it clear that Peters' comments were made in his capacity as a party leader and not as a Government spokesman.

The Prime Minister added that the Government stepping in, in the way suggested by Peters, "wasn't the nature of the conversation that was had with leaders here [in Southland] today".

She said any talks about a bailout were not part of the conversation today either.
"For us, it was all about what happens next."

She mentioned the fact a "transition" is needed in Southland, in terms of the jobs in the region.

Last week, Rio Tinto announced its plans to wind down its New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, including Tiwai Point.

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In a statement to the ASX, the company said its strategic review had shown the business was "no longer viable given high energy costs and a challenging outlook for the aluminium industry".

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Ardern said it is her understanding that Rio Tinto is in talks with Meridian of the company's future.

The Southland smelter employs about 1000 people directly and creates a further 1600 indirect jobs in the region.

In his op-ed, Peters said the Government needs to do what it can for these 2700 people.

"They are victims of a corporation which, in my opinion, has no regard for local economies and communities."

He was highly critical of Rio Tinto – "a foreign multi-national company has received hundreds of millions of dollars in direct and indirect government subsidies over the years".

He said the Tiwai announcement should come as no surprise as "the predators rarely feel empathy for their prey".

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Ardern said this morning that the Government has long had plans "for some time" to help develop new economic opportunities in Southland.

She said the question now is: "How do we expedite those".

One of the ways she suggested this could occur was through initiatives such as: R&D for food production, aquaculture, data centres and work on New Zealand's Space agency.

But she said: "We are all in agreement that a transition [in Southland] is needed".