Heather du Plessis-Allan: What does Rio Tinto think they're playing at?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 Feb 2020, 4:40PM

Heather du Plessis-Allan: What does Rio Tinto think they're playing at?

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Thu, 13 Feb 2020, 4:40PM

I can’t for the life of me understand what Rio Tinto’s playing at. Their behaviour at the moment seems completely counterproductive.

You’ll know of course that Rio Tinto is, once again, pleading poverty and asking the government for a hand-out otherwise it’s going to shut the Tiwai aluminium smelter.

That conversation is still happening, nothing’s been resolved publically, so you’d think it’s in Rio Tinto’s best interests to keep things sweet with the Government.

Not Rio Tinto.

Turns out, that waste being stored in the Mataura Paper Mill that nearly created a toxic gas situation in last week’s floods, that’s Rio Tinto’s garbage, and they’re refusing to clean up.

Apparently, the dross got shipped into the old paper mill in the middle of the night. Rio Tinto paid a company to clean it up, the company went into liquidation, so it stayed there. After the scare during last week’s flood, the government and the Gore District Council met with Rio Tinto to get rid of it.

The government kicked in million dollars, the council a few hundred thousand and Rio Tinto a bit more than a million. According to Gore’s mayor, they all agreed, shook hands - and then Rio Tinto reneged. Not going do it anymore.

Environment Minister David Parker is now so peeved he’s threatening legal action, and quite rightly so.

What is Rio Tinto doing? It’s bizarre. 

First of all, it’s obvious to anyone that you clean up your own waste. No one’s going to buy this argument about some middleman going bust. If Rio Tinto doesn’t clean it up, Mataura residents will have to. Is that fair? No.

Secondly, how does Rio Tinto think they’re going to get more money out of the government when they’re behaving like this?  I get that there might be a good argument for subsiding them, again, to save 800 jobs at the smelter, but it’s getting harder and harder for the government to say yes to that.

That’s because, ultimately, the government is answerable to voter, and voters might not like the idea of subsidising a foreign-owned company that refuses to clean up the mess it has created in our country.

This is a company that made $68 billion in revenue last year. Seven years ago, they got $30 million in subsidies from us. Now they want possibly millions in discounts from their $64 million power bill, which you and I will have to pay?

They’re putting all of that at risk over a one million dollar bill to clean up after themselves. It’s crazy.