19 Nov 2018

Pike River Mine families not owed an apology - Simon Bridges

9:52 am on 19 November 2018

National Party leader Simon Bridges doesn't believe the families of the 29 men who died at Pike River are owed an apology from the government.

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National leader Simon Bridges doesn't believe the families of the 29 men who died at Pike River deserve an apology from the government. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Minister Responsible for Pike River re-entry Andrew Little said the National government should make a public apology for its failures at the mine.

The government's independent adviser on the mine recovery operation, Rob Fyfe, has called for such an apology to the families of the 29 men who died in the mine explosions in 2010.

However, on the eighth anniversary of the disaster, Mr Bridges told Morning Report he didn't believe the families were owed an apology from the current or previous government.

"I don't think so," he said, "because I think what is true is the one thing that honours the legacy of these 29 men and their families best is what happened with the Royal Commission with an independent health and safety taskforce and then the most comprehensive health and safety changes in the history of New Zealand, particularly in mining, but in others areas as well.

"I think that's what honours the legacy of these men," he said.

"In terms of the re-entry of the mine, we wanted to do it, but the advice was universal and clear that it wasn't the thing to do.

"If he (Mr Little) has different information, that is good, I'm not against that but safety must be at the front of this," Mr Bridges said.

However the head of the Pike River Families Group Committee, Carol Rose, said while the previous National government took steps to change health and safety regulations, it did nothing to bring the bodies of the 29 men home.

"I was a little bit offended to hear him talking about the legacy to those 29 men. We felt the National government did everything they could do to prevent the reclamation of the drift and the recovery of any of the bodies.

"The families have not only been let down, it's every worker in New Zealand that has been let down by that National government. It's about every New Zealander having the confidence that the government of the day will do its best to keep everybody safe in the workplace and if things do go wrong, they'll do everything they can to find out what happened, why it happened and how they'll stop it from happening again," she said.

Ms Rose said she wanted an apology from someone who was part of the National government, whether it be Sir John Key, Sir Bill English or Mr Bridges.

Mr Little earlier told Morning Report there were a number of failures in the aftermath of the disaster, including by the Department of Labour which was responsible for overall health and safety.

"If you look back at the history of it, the failures on the government side that were contributing factors to the tragedy, the things that happened afterwards such as the botched prosecution of Peter Whittall who was really the controlling person in relating to it.

"There's no question that on the government side of things the families have been let down horribly badly and that ought to be appropriately acknowledged and the best way to do that is through an appropriate apology," he said.

When asked if he was politicising the disaster, Mr Little denied the claim.

"The reality is the degrading of our health and safety laws, the degrading of workers' rights happened over a period of time.

"We allowed our political culture to develop to the point where workers' rights became a tradable commodity, it still is to an extent. When we allowed that to happen we were on the pathway to have disasters like that. We still have a job to do, to actually say when it comes to those rights, certainly health and safety rights, there are some non-negotiable bottom lines that every party should subscribe to," he said.

However, Mr Bridges believed the disaster had become too politicised.

"I'm very clear in my head, I don't want this to be a political football because those 29 men and their families deserve better than that," Mr Bridges said.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unlawful for WorkSafe to withdraw its prosecution of Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall in exchange for payments to the victims' families.

WorkSafe New Zealand initially laid 12 health and safety charges against Mr Whittall, but they were dropped after more than $3 million was paid to the victims' families.

On Wednesday, the government said it will proceed with the re-entry of the Pike River Mine in February next year.

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