Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Mike Hosking: Rio Tinto's relationship with Govt feels like a hostage negotiation

 I think we can all agree that Tiwai going nowhere is a good thing. But that’s not the real story - or at least it shouldn’t be.

Tiwai is a lesson in why this country in parts needs to get its act together.

The clue here is the balance of power - no pun intended.

Does Tiwai need Southland or New Zealand? No. Does Southland and/or New Zealand need Tiwai? Yes.

And in that is the clue as to why they’re not going anywhere.

The old “we are off unless you cut us a deal” game has been played before. Last time the National government of the day wrote them a cheque for $30 million and said “that’s that - don’t come back”.

They did come back, of course, last year, at which point the government, at least in part, to their credit, told them there was no more money

Or was there? In the ensuing months, through the usual nashing of teeth and headline concern around jobs and economic impact on a small region in election year. We finally wound our way to a deal.

The deal was with Meridian, their energy supplier. Meridian had, of course, already offered them a deal that was turned down. So obviously the deal that got cut was an improvement on the original offers.

Some market analysts suggest its 36 per cent. Imagine if you could trim 36 per cent off your power bill.

Meridian, it’s important to note, is government owned. They too can’t afford for Tiwai to bail because what would they do with all that excess power.

Power that, by the way, they don’t have the infrastructure to simply fling up country to other punters

So yet again, we’ve been found wanting. A region that like all regions should be more than just a place beholden to a large company. A power company that’s beholden to its biggest client. A government that can ill afford the joblessness mess of a major regional bail out.

Rio Tinto came to the gun fight with guns - we came again with bows and arrows.

Good relationships are symbiotic; they have give and take, they have balance, they have mutual standing.

They are not, as we have seen yet again, a hostage negotiation.

Mike Hosking is a New Zealand television and radio broadcaster. He currently hosts The Mike Hosking Breakfast show on NewstalkZB on weekday mornings.

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