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Making a point...Mataura Sort the Dross spokeswoman Laurel Turnbull is flanked by protesters Kevin Wilkinson and a man who did not wish to be named at Monday's petition launch. PHOTO:SANDY EGGLESTON

“It’s great to have the town behind us now,” Sort the Dross spokeswoman Laurel Turnbull says.

About 100 people gathered in Bridge St, Mataura, to witness the launch of New Zealand First list MP Mark Patterson’s petition on Monday.

The petition calls for the House of Representatives to urge the Government to take any means necessary to remove the ouvea premix stored at the former Mataura Paper Mill and relocate it to the New Zealand Aluminium Smelters processing plant at Tiwai Point.

On February 14, about 400 people turned out to a meeting to express their concerns about the premix remaining in the town.

Mrs Turnbull said it had taken about six years for people to get on board to voice their concern about the premix.

“Everybody’s behind us, really, of getting this damn stuff out,” she said.

It was great to get the support.

“The flood made people realise that, hey, maybe we do need to start showing people we’re not happy either.”

Mrs Turnbull said one person had told her that “Mataura people have been too complacent” and thought Sort the Dross members would deal with the situation.

“I kept telling people we can’t do this by ourselves.”

Until now it might have appeared there were only a few concerned in the town, as the meetings the group organised had been small.

That had now changed and she hoped Rio Tinto, part-owner of the plant at Tiwai Point, would allow the premix to be stored there.

“Rio Tinto is a big company and we are just a little town .. They have to surely wake up and realise they’ve got a moral obligation.”

Sixty-five people signed the petition after its launch and the plan was to visit Mataura residents to invite them to sign it.

It would also be taken to other towns and could be signed online. At 3pm yesterday 777 people had signed online.

At the launch, Mr Patterson, Gore Mayor Tracy Hicks and Sort the Dross spokeswoman Cherie Chapman addressed the crowd, which included Mataura School and Kia Ngawari Kohanga pupils.

Mr Patterson said it was important to keep the pressure on Rio Tinto.

“We must not let the pressure locally recede as the water has receded .. this has been a long, torturous process that has taken six years.

“Southland’s been good to them in the past and the New Zealand taxpayer’s been good to them in the past .. so it’s a little bit galling when they’ve tried to wriggle out of this moral responsibility.”

It had been an uneven fight up until now, he said; the people of the Gore district were up against a multinational corporation.

Mr Hicks said he believed the premix should go back to the Tiwai Point smelter.

“It’s where it came from originally.. Rio Tinto would argue they don’t have a legal responsibility .. but whether they have a legal responsibility or not they have a moral responsibility as a large corporate,” he said.

Rio Tinto needed to be sent a strong message.

“It’s really good to have Government, local government right across the province and community all saying the same thing.”

Ms Chapman, too, agreed.

“There are heaps of containers full of dross out at Tiwai. They’ve got heaps of space so let’s really put the pressure on.”