Who Pays for Pike River? | The Jackal

30 Jun 2011

Who Pays for Pike River?

I think I speak for all of New Zealand when I say our hearts go out to the families of those killed in the Pike River mine disaster.

Not only have the families of the deceased had to wait an incessant amount of time for the recovery process to begin, it now appears that it's been financially mismanaged, and will stall because of a lack foresight by the receivers to set aside enough money to complete the task.

This is also a failure by the National Government, which has compounded the problem by not properly administering the process to achieve what is required. National was clearly unready and unfit to meet the challenges of Governing New Zealand through some major disasters. Unfortunately their continued negligence will cost this country dearly, and not just financially.

The Pike River Coal receivers said today that $1 million had been set aside for the recovery operation, which would be enough to take the teams as far as the rock fall 2km inside the mine but not far enough to recover the bodies. They said it would be up to the mine's buyers to fund the recovery of the bodies. However an announcement of any buyer for the Pike River mine has not been made, leaving the question as to when the recovery will be completed open to speculation.

It's now been over seven months since the mining disaster of November 19th 2010. The initial emergency response was fraught with problems because of a lack of proper equipment and recovery procedures.

This is on top of knowledge that it took nearly an hour before emergency services were alerted, and 14 hours to contact the families after the initial explosion. In my opinion the entire process has been bungled from the outset.

It was National that removed safety policies and regulations soon after becoming Government in 2008, which decreased the number of qualified mines inspectors dramatically. There was only one mining safety inspector operating in the South Island at the time of the Pike River explosion because of their cost cutting measures.

This may well have contributed to the disaster, giving credence to the claim that the National Party is liable. However it is ultimately Pike River Coal, which has been in receivership since late last year that should pay for the recovery operation.

New Zealand Oil & Gas holds a 29% shareholding in Pike River Coal, totalling $142 million. So there's obviously enough money available to recover those killed in the Pike River mine disaster, it's just being allocated incorrectly. The priority is to recover the deceased, so that the families can undertake funeral services for their loved ones.

Whether the Government or NZOG provides the recovery funds is inconsequential to that priority. However it is my opinion that those who enabled the disaster should be made to pay for the recovery process. Money is clearly not the most important thing here.

There's no question in my mind that the cost should be met by the the former managers of Pike River Coal. After employing top defense lawyers to fight accusations they were to blame for the deaths of the 29 men who died inside the dangerous mine, Pike River Coal management then claimed they could not attend the Royal Commission of Inquiry hearings because of a lack of funds. It's a similar hypocritical duplicity often seen from the National Party.

John Key recently told an Australian newspaper that the single entry up hill Pike River mine:
"Couldn't have been constructed in Australia, because it would have been illegal.”
This contradicts what the Prime minister previously said when he condemned people for questioning mining safety. John Key accused a union representative of being:
"churlish and insensitive," and "It was 'dangerous' to raise concerns about safety issues when the Royal Commission of Inquiry was still underway."
A Royal Commission of Inquiry is currently still investigating the disaster at the West Coast mine, and is looking into safety and responsibility. It will report its findings by March 2012. The Commission has already drawn criticism though, being that the National government refused to allow any Union representation.

The pressing priority is to return the deceased to their families and then to ensure that there are improvements to mine construction and safety standards. This can be achieved prior to the Commissions report. We need to learn from this disaster; National and the Mining industry should now understand that cutting corners costs much more in the long run. What price to place on human misery after all?