New Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane has heaped pressure on Rio Tinto to keep the loss-making Gove Alumina Refinery open for another 20 years after touring the nearby town of Nhulunbuy on Monday.
Federal and Northern Territory authorities have been urging Rio to keep the refinery open, because it is largely responsible for sustaining the Nhulunbuy economy.
Most of the discussions have focused on supplying gas to Gove to reduce operating costs and Mr Macfarlane reportedly said on Monday that 300 petajoules of gas was available to Gove.
While he did not say where the gas would come from, ABC radio reported Mr Macfarlane saying Rio should promise to keep Gove open for 20 years if the government promised to underwrite a pipeline to supply the gas.
Rio is still considering its options and is understood to still be a long way from reaching any sort of gas supply deal with third parties.
In a memo to staff on Friday, Rio said it was considering five options, ranging from keeping the refinery open under present terms to closing it.
Martin Ferguson, who quit as resources minister in March, has joined Kerry Stokes’ Seven Group and will serve as an executive in charge of natural resources.