NT govt still fighting to save Nhulunbuy
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DARWIN, Feb 4 AAP
February 04 2013, 6:31PM
NT Chief Minister Terry Mills is continuing his fight to save an alumina refinery and the outback town that relies on it, despite a company report indicating the plant should be shut.
On Monday Mr Mills flew to Canberra and met Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and others.
"All I can say at this point is that there has been welcome cooperation from Minister Ferguson and also from the Coalition," Mr Mills said after the meetings.
"Finding creative solutions to challenging problems," he told the ABC.
Mr Mills will be travelling to Singapore, Milan and London as he attempts to find a way to convince mining giant Rio Tinto Ltd to keep the plant operating.
A strategic review undertaken by Rio subsidiary Pacific Aluminium had recommended the plant be temporarily closed, Mr Mills has said.
"A recommendation from the investment review committee was to mothball it," he told the NT News.
The strategic review was handed to Rio Tinto on January 31, with the mining giant expected to make a decision on whether to close the Gove refinery soon.
The refinery employs about 1200 people, and has been losing about $30 million each month due to the high Australian dollar, low aluminium prices and the steep cost of running the plant, which is powered by diesel.
Any moves to close the plant are expected to devastate the economy of the satellite town of Nhulunbuy, which has a population of about 3500, and flow-on effects could lead to hardship for nearby Aboriginal communities.
Pacific Aluminium has hinted that if the Northern Territory government can provide natural gas to power the refinery it will reconsider moves to close down the plant.
But the plant would use about as much gas as currently is needed to power the whole of the NT, and allocating the refinery enough gas could lead to gas shortages elsewhere.
There is currently no pipeline to take the gas to the refinery, and Rio Tinto is believed to also want the federal government to underwrite the $1 billion investment.
On Monday Dave Suter from the Nhulunbuy Chamber of Commerce and Industry said people in the town were anxiously awaiting news from Rio Tinto.
"Everyone is a bit edgy about what is happening," he said.
Mr Suter said even if the review recommended the plant be mothballed, the context of the recommendation was important.
"It could potentially say that it should be mothballed until they get gas," he said.
By Xavier La Canna