Rio Tinto strikes a deal with the Ardern govt on cleaning up its mess – and it brings Ngai Tahu into an array of commitments

Should we really be cheering news of a giant global company picking up the tab for cleaning up its own mess?  Surely that’s what it should be doing.

But hey, we are talking about Rio Tinto, a company widely criticised by environmental groups around the world and at least one national government for the environmental impacts of its mining activities. Or so we are told by Wikipedia.

And it has been a dab hand at persuading governments in this country to help power its aluminium smelter operations near Bluff at a modest cost.

But the PM, helped by some of her ministerial team., has urged the company to do something about its toxic waste and – hurrah – the company  has obliged.

The company has made a raft of commitments, including recognising Ngai Tahu (at least by the looks of things) as an organisation akin to a co-governor.

In fact, in the press statement from the Beehive Ngai Tahu is listed ahead of the central and local government bodies involved in the agreement.

The company will work with Ngāi Tahu, MfE and Environment Southland and government officials on some aspects of its operations and it will share soil contamination data with the tribe as well as with Environment Southland and MfE.

It will work closely with Ngāi Tahu, too, to ensure “the cultural significance of Tiwai Point” is taken into considerations.

In Wellington yesterday, the Government welcomed confirmation of Rio Tinto tackling its environmental responsibilities, including the removal of aluminium dross in Southland to its Tiwai site.

The company’s undertakings follow a face-to-face discussion in Wellington earlier this month between Jacinda Ardern and Jakob Stausholm, the Danish CEO of Rio Tinto Group since January this year.

We may suppose she helped ensure Ngai Tahu was given a chunk of the action.

Environment Minister David Parker was so chuffed about all this, apparently, his press statement was posted twice on the Beehive website.

An earlier meeting had involved three ministers – Parker, Grant Robertson and Megan Woods – and Aluminium Group Chief Executive Ivan Vella and the general manager of NZAS Stew Hamilton.

The other big news item from the Beehive in the past 24 hours affirmed that the pause in New Zealand’s Quarantine Free Travel with Victoria will be extended until 7.59pm on Friday 4 June.

Oh – and Phil Twyford delivered a speech about trade with Fiji and PACER-Plus (no, it’s not a prize-winning horse).

Govt welcomes Tiwai clean up undertakings

The Government has welcomed confirmation of waste remediation actions from Tiwai smelter owner Rio Tinto, including the removal of aluminium dross in Southland to the Tiwai site,

This involves taking on the $4 million in funding commitments of the Government, councils and landowners in relation to the dross stored in the former paper mill in Mataura

In a letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson, Energy Minister Megan Woods and Environment Minister David Parker, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Jakob Stausholm said the company would make right its environmental performance at New Zealand Aluminium Smelters (NZAS).

The new undertakings go beyond the removal of the dross, and are to:

  • Relocate the Taha Ouvea from all other Invercargill locations as the space at Tiwai allows. Once the Mataura material has been moved we will begin the relocation of material from other buildings in Invercargill, with an initial 2000 tonnes expected in the second half of 2021. Further relocation will occur when material from Tiwai has been processed.
  • Fund the shortfall in processing costs for Taha Ouvea. It is estimated that there is a current funding shortfall of $2 million to enable the full 23,000 tonnes of material to be processed.
  • Take full funding responsibility for the Taha Ouvea and in doing so, assume the current funding commitments of NZAS, The Ministry for the Environment, Invercargill City Council, Environment Southland, Gore District Council and building owners ($4 million).
  • Provide an undertaking to remove and process the buried Haysom’s dross on site. This dross was relocated from Bluff approximately 20 years ago and has a government indemnity in place.
  • Work with Ngāi Tahu, MfE and Environment Southland and government officials to identify other processing options for Ouvea and Spent Cathode Linings (SCL).
  • Implement, by Q4 this year, new technology that enables the elimination of washing shells of reduction cells with water. This will significantly reduce cyanide emissions to the coastal marine environment. NZAS’ emissions are already better than consent levels, and the change will take the emissions to very low, and certainly world class levels.
  • Share soil contamination data, as part of our closure study process, in Q3 with Ngāi Tahu, Environment Southland and MfE.

They add to earlier undertakings:

  • To relocate the Mataura Ouvea to Tiwai point. As of 17 May, 3000 tonnes of material remain stored at Mataura. Progress will continue over the next few weeks until approximately 1500 tonne remain. We will then await the arrival of the remaining shipping containers (coming from China) in mid-June to complete the removal. Shipping container availability has been very tight globally.
  • To remove all SCL from the Tiwai peninsula at closure.
  • To share 20 years of ground water monitoring results from the SCL pad and landfill – this is now completed.
  • To share the sampling plan for soil contamination on site – this is now completed.
  • To work with Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu to develop further sampling plan requirements and assess options to address the outcomes of the sampling.
  • To commit to collaborating with Environment Southland officials allowing them access to site and to working closely with Ngāi Tahu to ensure our standards reflect the cultural significance of Tiwai Point.

Victoria travel bubble pause extended; all recent visitors from Melbourne to be tested

The pause in New Zealand’s Quarantine Free Travel with Victoria will be extended until 7.59pm on Friday 4 June after the announcement in Melbourne yesterday of a growing number of cases of Covid-19, ore exposure events and the high risk nature of some of these events.

Victoria has put in place a seven-day lockdown from 11.59pm last night with local residents required to stay home following confirmation of additional locally-acquired cases of COVID-19, increasing exposure sites and a large and growing number of close contacts.

In Australia, the 14-day travel restrictions for those who have visited locations of interest means they are ineligible to travel to New Zealand within 14 days from exposure – even with a negative COVID-19 test.

Our Ministry of Health is updating advice for those who have been in Melbourne recently.

A Section 70 notice is being issued under the Health Act putting new measures in force.

The variant of COVID-19 being found in Melbourne is the B.1.617.1 variant which was first reported in India.


Address to the New Zealand-Fiji Business Council

As Associate Minister of Trade and Export Growth, Phil Twyford demonstrated he can talk about matters other than international disarmament and arms control (the subject of four of his speeches since the general election last October).

He did some braying about this country’s generosity in helping Fiji deal with the Covid pandemic – for example, funding support of NZ$40 million (recently announced) will contribute to the Fiji Government’s social protection initiatives, providing support to those who have been directly affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.

 Then he admitted being new to the trade portfolio – but he’s keen to learn:

“When it comes to trade and economic development, I’m relying on Fijians and those who know the country and its economy inside out to give me the deep understanding of the opportunities and obstacles that exist.”

He mentioned tourism and bubbles:

New Zealand’s quarantine-free travel arrangements with Australia and the Cook Islands have commenced. These were complex negotiations and, as you will have noticed, implementation has required active management as small numbers of cases have been discovered. 

As Prime Minister Ardern has indicated, when the time is right, we will be in a position to begin conversations with other Pacific neighbours, including Fiji, on quarantine-free travel arrangements.  Whatever the timeframe for reopening, our priority will always remain keeping the New Zealand and Pacific people safe.

And he noted the recent announcement that New Zealand is re-establishing a resident Trade Commission in Suva.

This role will support New Zealand companies to grow their trade, investment and partnerships in Fiji, and in the Pacific region more broadly. We want to give New Zealand businesses visibility to the opportunities that Fiji presents. We want to showcase the broader Pacific as a major market for New Zealand exporters, and we want to work with Fiji to improve the business environment. Above all, this appointment demonstrates our confidence in Fiji’s economic

PACER Plus (The Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations which took effect in December last year) was among his speaking points, too.

Fiji did not sign up.

The Agreement has a long history. Negotiations began in 2011, it was signed by eleven countries in 2017 and has now entered into force for the eight countries who have ratified.

I understand the misgivings that led Fiji to ultimately decide against joining PACER Plus. New Zealand is a strong believer in the agreement, and more broadly in trade and the economic benefits can bring, but we accept that in the short term it can cause some disruption for both governments and businesses, as agreements are implemented and the trading environment changes accordingly. This is why it is important to see PACER Plus as part of a long-term solution to regional trade and development, working alongside other initiatives New Zealand partners with the Pacific on, rather than through any short term impacts.

Twyford said the trade component of PACER Plus was important but he noted, too, the development aspect.

This aspect is not an afterthought but a fundamental component of the agreement. New Zealand and Australia have funded AU$25 million worth of Development and Economic Cooperation activities which will help shape the trading environment in the Pacific, while New Zealand has also committed to invest at least 20 percent of its total Official Development Assistance (ODA) in aid for trade activities in the Pacific.

Parties to the Agreement have the opportunity to develop a work programme of trade capacity building activities. These activities will strengthen the enabling environment to further drive trade and investment flows in the Pacific. PACER Plus is then not only about reducing tariffs, but taking a broader approach and addressing the wide range of factors that impact the ability of nations to trade and develop effectively – and that’s where I see some of its greatest value.

Beyond this, I note the agreement also commits participating states to improve the broader trade and investment-related programme of assistance through their existing development and economic cooperation relationships.

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