Rio Tinto: Clean Up Your Own Bluff Smelter Mess And Bugger Off – CAFCA



For as long as the Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA) has existed – more than 45 years now – we have called for the closure of the Bluff aluminium smelter, owned by giant transnational corporation, Rio Tinto. There are numerous grounds for doing so, all of which amount to the smelter not being in New Zealand’s national interest. The corporate welfare power price deal (the price is still secret) by itself qualifies the smelter as the country’s biggest bludger. Once again Rio Tinto is pulling the same old party trick of threatening to close down and leave the country unless it gets an even better deal than what it currently enjoys.

The conventional analysis used to be that the smelter is bad for the country but good for Southland. Not so more, in light of very recent events. Last week’s huge floods throughout Southland ran the very real risk of setting an environmental catastrophe (not to mention a major threat to life) if the water had got into huge quantities of toxic waste stored in Mataura, which would have released ammonia gas. Fortunately, that did not happen. But neither the toxic waste nor the threat have gone away.

What is this toxic waste? Some (but by no means all) media reports correctly identified it as the poetically named dross, the toxic waste product of the smelter. And why is it being stored in a closed down former papermill building right next to a river in Mataura (along with other places dotted across Southland)? Because Rio Tinto got sick of storing it onsite at Bluff and decided to outsource its disposal to a third-party company, which took it off Rio Tinto’s hands in 2014 and then promptly went bust in 2016. Leaving the people of Mataura, and elsewhere in Southland, stuck with the problem.

Following last week’s flood, the Gore District Council made a verbal deal with the smelter management to have the dross removed. That deal was overruled by Rio Tinto’s Board. As Gore’s CEO said: “We had a deal sealed with a good old-fashioned Southland handshake, but Rio Tinto’s bosses have reneged”. At which point the “transformative” Government started to wake from its stupor. Environment Minister David Parker said it was “disgraceful” and “I’ve had enough” and threatened to look at suing Rio Tinto.

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Good luck with that one, Minister. That would involve Labour facing up to the 2003 and 04 indemnities signed by Michael Cullen, Labour’s Minister of Finance at the time, accepting that the taxpayer, and not the smelter owners, would be liable for the cost of cleaning up toxic waste produced by the smelting process. That liability was renewed as recently as 2016, by the Key government.

Yes, that’s right. Rio Tinto has outsourced the liability for cleaning up its mess onto the New Zealand taxpayer. And supine governments, both Labour and National, have gone along with that. It’s a textbook example of a transnational corporation privatising the profits and socialising the costs.

CAFCA suggests that the Government makes Rio Tinto clean up its own mess, at its own expense. And that the Government cuts short Rio Tinto’s decades-long tiresome threatening to close down and assist them to do so. With a “good old-fashioned” boot up the arse.

Murray Horton



  1. CAFCA suggests that the Government makes Rio Tinto clean up its own mess, at its own expense. And that the Government cuts short Rio Tinto’s decades-long tiresome threatening to close down and assist them to do so.

    Absolutely agree. Exactly right and long overdue!

  2. I see some of the Southland people holding signs up asking for Jacinda to fix the mess. Southland are national voters and always have been so why didn’t they ask Sarah dowdie to do this. Oh! thats right maybe she was too busy sending death texts to JL Ross and she got of scot free, another example of the double standard in our country and the fucken hypocrisy.

  3. so your organisation is going to find new jobs for all those laid off and new customers for the businesses in the area. You can sit round sipping your latte and work that out. I am sure you have a solution otherwise you would not suggest they leave.

    • Gee Trev, First you’re saying Eugenie Sage has not done enough to clean up the environment (to which I wholeheartedly agree – not nearly enough!)

      Nek minit, here you are saying, “Waahhh, we need da monies the corpsies bring while they poison us.”

      It must cause a bit of discomfort to ya, sitting right on top of the fence and wriggling from one side then to the other… (Hope it’s just not a barbed wire fence, hey. )

    • Hi Trev, I read your comment and just posted a mean-spirited reply to it. Sorry about that.

      Here’s a more serious answer:
      It is time that we here in AO/ NZ start thinking much more seriously about clean energy solutions as well as about sustainable agriculture, as being right up there in terms of earning potential for all of us as a nation. As long as we have these old toxic situations “providing employment”, we end up relying on them rather than getting out there and generating better ways of achieving that employment. ‘Better ways’ would include a greater sense of wellbeing within the wider community, and an absolute minimum of toxic waste as a by-product (hopefully none).

      There are plenty of clean energy solutions out there, probably an infinite number once we start looking for them and thinking about them. It just needs the will, the political will in particular, to give an absolute “NO” to the wrong ways of dealing with a situation, in order to clear the road for a much better approach.

  4. If Rio Tinto do leave, then good luck finding another suitable place to do their business! It performs above average and produces top grade aluminium in terms of what it does, (lets not get distracted by funny money, to pretend that it runs at a big loss, Rio Tinto is a vertically integrated concern and this part of their supply chain that ‘loses’ money i.e. its an accounting loss not a real loss, which is so helpful in international operations to avoid paying taxes).

    What the fuck is going on that the corporates operating in NZ think they have the right to pollute our country and the taxpayers pay for it and the government bends over some more! It’s yet another crazy neoliberal trend.

    As for if they do go, apparently 5 million consumers can look forward to lower power prices because our government sets the electrical spot price (unlike the rest of the world) based on the most expensive produced electricity here, not the cheapest because they are industry morons, yippee! Thanks Max Bradford, who designed this mess, from a previous Natz government, you moron and Labour just sits on their arses because it’s too complicated for them.

    Nice to see the government has no problem ripping off consumers though while giving hand outs to offshore polluters.

    Way to be cleared for big electricity players to prey on low-income households

    NZ Power Companies are not even Compliant under EU and US Laws!

    NZ’s biggest Electricity companies wouldn’t be permitted to operate overseas they way they’re doing business. Instead of Rio Tinto reducing their long term power risks by the futures market like international norms, they just go with begging bowl/threats to the NZ Government who takes on their risks for them, and also makes it easier for them to threaten to leave every few years as they don’t have long term commitments in their business model here. Aka no risks on 10 year power futures, no risks on redundancy for staff as NZ does not have mandatory redundancy laws here, no risks on environmental clean up, as our government just takes the lack of clear up and swindles up the arse.

    Funny enough that approach drives poverty for everyone else, as it pushes up our cost of living for everyone else, while creating dinosaur industries here and our taxes go on corporate welfare not our hospitals.

    The above analysis link is a damning breakdown of how screwed our electricity market is. Gentailers (generator/retailers) should be broken up just as Telecom was into Chorus and Spark. Failing that, there needs to be controls placed on them to stop price gouging.

  5. Mataura asks Govt to act

    Mataura residents stood up last night and asked central Government to rid their community of ouvea premix.
    It was a request made by about 400 people who turned out to a volatile and angry meeting.

    The people of Mataura wanted to know when the hazardous material would be removed from their township.

    The answer never came — making them more agitated, upset and vocal.

    When combined with water, ouvea can generate poisonous ammonia gas.

    Talking heads from different organisations were laughed at and heckled as the evening continued.

    It began when the microphone wouldn’t work at the beginning of the meeting. A shout came from the crowd, “the council’s turned the power off”.

    One resident spoke of Rio Tinto’s track record of abusing small towns around the world.

    “If you think Rio Tinto are going to come to the party, you might as well as forget it.

    “I hope this Government will stand up and be counted,” the person said.

    “I’m afraid I don’t trust anybody with what we’ve been through.”

    Ms Biddle said the people of Southland had the opportunity to come together and hold the government to task.”

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