It was revealed last week that the Government intends exempting itself from the new workplace safety laws and mining regulations put in place following the Pike River Mine tragedy. This is ironically to enable their re-entry project. This is a ridiculous situation where politics is over-riding common sense.
The Pike River Mine exploded on 19 November 2010. Two men in the 2.3 km tunnel to the mine known as ‘the drift’ survived. The remaining 29 men in the mine workings perished. The mine repeatedly exploded in the days that followed.
A Royal Commission of Inquiry was instigated immediately, cost $10.5m and reported in November 2012. It concluded the mine was poorly designed and operated and that the Department of Labour failed to properly regulate mine safety. It specifically criticised the single means of exit. Our Government implemented its recommendations with a new Health and Safety at Work Act (2015), new mining regulations and the new agency, Worksafe NZ. These new laws rightly now require two means of exit from a mine and better ventilation.
Prime Minister John Key promised to recover the men in the days following the tragedy. Everything possible was done to achieve this. Over $5m was spent pumping nitrogen into the mine and putting men, robots and cameras into the drift. A comprehensive 800 page report in 2015 concluded recovery of the men could not be done within the new safety laws.
It was heart breaking telling the families. They initially accepted the advice and requested the Government invest $12m in a new Paparoa and Pike 29 Great Walk. I got Cabinet agreement and it opens on 1 December this year.
Winston Peters, Labour and the Greens cynically exploited the families’ disappointment, insisting the men’s remains could be safely recovered. Peters insisted he would go into the mine himself. Jacinda Ardern explicitly promised in the Leader’s debate “We’ve got to deliver to those families their loved ones”. The difference from John Key was that by then detailed safety reports said it could not be done.
The new Government created the Pike River Recovery Agency. It has ruled out going beyond the drift to the mine workings where the Royal Commission concluded the men are. It is also unlikely any significant new evidence will be found noting the Royal Commission concluded the explosion was initiated well beyond the drift. $36m is being spent on this political charade.
Last Wednesday the Government reacted angrily to mining journalist, Gerry Morris for exposing their intention to bypass the mine safety regulations. He also called the government out on making a political football of this tragedy. Pike River Recovery and Justice Minister Andrew Little belittled Mr Morris in Parliament last Thursday. Their dispute escalated on Friday with the Minister complaining to police and Mr Morris’s home being visited late that night by armed police.
My advice to Government is don’t shoot the messenger. The Royal Commission had it right when they concluded we best respect the 29 men by passing and complying with improved safety laws.