30 Aug 2022

Pike River families say new public service standards will empower survivors

6:58 am on 30 August 2022

Families of men killed in the 2010 Pike River Mine explosion say new public service standards will ensure no families have to go through what they did.

Pike River re-entry announcement. Relative of mine victim, Anna Osborne.

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the Pike River mine tragedy. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The standards and their details will be officially launched at Parliament on Tuesday afternoon, and will lay out the expectations for ministries and agencies in their interactions with survivors of large-scale catastrophic events.

Titled Working with Survivors, they have been co-authored by the Public Service Commission and Pike River families, in consultation with family members and survivors of other major New Zealand tragedies.

Sonya Rockhouse, who lost her son Ben in the explosion, said the standards were a long-time coming.

"It's very important we get this done and we get it done properly. Obviously it's not going to stop everything, but hopefully we can go a long way towards families not having to deal with the issues we did and have done over the years."

Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton died in the mine, said when Pike happened, neither families nor government agencies were prepared what to do.

"They went around like they had their heads chopped off. There wasn't really anything set up for a tragedy of this magnitude in New Zealand," she said.

Osborne said she and other Pike family members initiated the standards, because they saw the same mistakes being made over and over. She wanted to make sure survivors and families had the support they needed when a tragedy happened.

"We just don't want anyone to ever end up having to go through what we did, it's appalling. We wanted to memorialise our men as well, we didn't just want to walk away and say 'that's it now.'"

She said the rules were written by past survivors for future survivors.

"This standard we've created will be going to all the agencies that need to be told about it, and they will all hopefully be singing off the same songsheet after that, so should another tragedy happens in New Zealand they are well-prepared to handle it this time."

Relatives of mine victims Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse embrace after the announcement of the re-entry plan.

Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse. File photo. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It was important the voices of other survivors and their experiences with the public service were in the standards, Rockhouse said.

"That sort of thing stays with you forever. If they don't get it right, that can also traumatise you when you're already traumatised and victimised. It can re-victimise you all the way through."

The standards are the result of a model partnership approach announced in November 2020. The partnership was proposed by the Pike River Family Reference Group, and supported by Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes.

"Both the Public Service and the Pike River families are committed to learning and doing better, especially for victims and their families, and we will commence a process to do that in partnership with the Pike River Family Reference Group," Hughes said at the time.

The Pike families then consulted with family members and survivors of other major tragedies, such as Aramoana, Cave Creek, Whakaari, the CTV Building, and March 15th.

Rockhouse was confident things had already changed, but said more needed to be done.

"It was evident in Whakaari, for example. We were told at the time there were things put in place because of Pike, and the lessons learned from Pike."

Rowdy Durbridge lost his son Dan in the disaster. He said he was pleased some good for others will come from Pike River.

"Making sure others in the future have it better than we did, that's as good a way of remembering Dan and the rest of the boys as I can think of," he said.

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