By PHILIP CHANDLER
A self-styled Queenstown entrepreneur’s put in an audacious bid to save Southland’s job-rich Tiwai aluminium smelter.
International giant Rio Tinto announced last week it would close the Bluff smelter next year, at the disastrous cost of about 2600 direct and indirect jobs.
Long-time local Basil Walker says he’s written to its New Zealand lawyers, offering to take it over as a going concern, and dusting off a contract he prepared when the company originally threatened to pull out three years ago.
His plan is Rio Tinto would be ‘paid’ by foregoing its obligation to fork out about $256 million to remediate the site.
He suggests a goodwill payment to the company – of $22,480,000 – would be the only money to change hands.
Walker says he’s also contacted the company’s little-known minority partner, Japan-based Sumitomo Chemical Company, which is also a smelter customer.
“Sumitomo will be a partner and obviously is a major world banking conglomerate, enabling significant working capital for the smelter.”
Walker’s idea is a Southland entity, be it a council or economic development agency, Great South, would take over the smelter and secure its future.
A former Southlander, he says keeping the smelter also benefits Queenstown.
“Where do Invercargill people holiday? Queenstown.”
The smelter workforce is also highly paid, he says.
“There’s not many jobs that highly paid in Southland.”
Meanwhile, Walker blasts successive NZ governments for turning “a blind eye to Transpower’s extortion of the line charge of almost $1m per kilometre for Manapouri to Tiwai electricity transmission”.
Would-be smelter buyer Basil Walker’s chalked up some significant achievements:
● Instigated Arrowtown’s world-rated Millbrook Resort
● Developed Fernhill shopping centre and operated fish & chip shop
● Had idea for international airport in Northern Southland which he says is capturing interest as a base for Southern Ocean surveillance
● Successfully pushed for free Herceptin treatment for breast cancer patients
● Successfully pushed for huge tax refund for Otago Regional Council ratepayers over funding of Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium
Latterly, Walker’s been ACT Party candidate for local Southland electorate, but was removed, though not struck out, last week.