An Aboriginal land council is warning of dire consequences for indigenous people if Rio Tinto closes its refinery in Gove.
As Rio Tinto's 31 January deadline for a report on the viability of the Gove alumina refinery approaches, locals in the satellite town of Nhulunbuy have been increasingly worried.
Northern Land Council (NLC) Chairman Wali Wunungmurra on Wednesday published an open letter to NT Chief Minister Terry Mills warning of the consequences.
"Without a local hospital every expectant mother will have to be medically evacuated to Darwin," Mr Wunungmurra said.
"Without a high school Aboriginal children will not get an education followed by full-time work and a productive life," he said.
While Nhulunbuy had a population of about 3500 people, Mr Wunungmurra said a further 16,000 Aboriginal people lived in nearby communities and they relied on the local hospital, supermarket, retailers, social clubs and other services in the town.
Rio Tinto runs the Gove alumina refinery and bauxite mine via its subsidiary Pacific Aluminium.
Analysts say it is likely to mothball the refinery, which is making estimated losses of US$30 million ($28.81 million) each month.
Mr Mills on Wednesday vowed the government would continue to provide essential services even if the refinery was mothballed, which could see Nhulunbuy's population plunge.
"We would still have to provide health and education and law and order and all the range of programs that the Northern Territory government already provides to the community," Mr Mills said.
"There still will be economic activity there and if they (Rio Tinto) make that decision, if they choose to go down that path, there will be consequences which we would have to adjust to," he said.
But Dave Suter from the Nhulunbuy Chamber of Commerce and Industry was sceptical.
"Schooling, hospital services, health services, small businesses, all that is the concern of everybody," Mr Suter said.
"If they have got no kids, why would you keep a school?" he said.
"The consensus here at the moment is that the drop in the number of children would mean closing one of the schools."
He expects a decision from the miner on the fate of the refinery late on Thursday.
Closing the Gove refinery would see about 1200 people lose their jobs, saving Rio Tinto $100 million in wages annually.
NT Chief Minister Terry Mills travelled to Perth today (Wednesday) in an attempt to secure a gas supply to assist in keeping the refinery open.
“Today I travel to Perth to hold talks with major international gas companies which could see an aggregated gas supply found for the Northern Territory,” Mr Mills said.
“Last week, my Government advised Rio Tinto that we are willing to release their request of 300PJ of gas over 10 years, provided a replacement gas supply is made available so the future Northern Territory electricity supply is not jeopardised or put at risk.
“The NT Government has a strategy to bring other gas resources into the domestic gas market, which would provide sufficient gas to meet both the Northern Territory’s electricity demand and Rio Tinto’s requirements to ensure the Gove refinery remains operating.
“Sufficient proven gas reserves exist in the Tern and Petrel fields near the Blacktip field and Eni Australia has scheduled a drilling program for the Penguin Deep prospect, just 40 kilometres from the Blacktip field.
“In Perth, I will meet immediately with GDF Suez and Santos, the owners of the Petrel and Tern gas fields, to discuss obtaining an additional gas supply for the Northern Territory.”
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