Most New Zealanders believe Pike River Coal's shareholders
should pay court-ordered compensation for the families of
miners killed in the company's mine, a Herald-DigiPoll survey
In July, District Court Judge Jane Farish convicted Pike
River Coal on health and safety charges and ordered the
company to pay the families $3.41 million. But the company is
in receivership and could not pay. Its shareholders said they
would not pay either.
Last week's poll of 750 New Zealanders found 64.4 per cent
believed the company's shareholders should make good on that
Just 19.8 per cent supported the Government paying out
instead and 16 per cent said they didn't know.
Pike River families spokesman Bernie Monk said he was not
surprised that a majority of the public thought the company's
shareholders should pay out.
Mr Monk and his wife Kath lost their son Michael in the
disaster. He said the compensation issue was never about the
money for him but other families were struggling financially
despite ACC and other payments.
He pointed to this month's announcement that $3.4 million in
insurance money previously earmarked for mine manager Peter
Whittall's legal costs would now go to the families after
charges against him were dropped.
"If they had insurances against court cases to fight the
in court why didn't they have insurances to cover such
disasters like this? That's what I can't understand."
In their quest for the court-ordered compensation, the Pike
River families had been "put in the position where we're the
villains, but we're the victims". "We shouldn't be even
discussing who should be paying the money; the families
should have been compensated one way or another whether it
was from the company or an insurance policy they had."
He said having the Government pay was one option to ensure
families received the compensation but
another one was to pay it out of any future production at the
"That way the country wouldn't have to pay for it. There is
another way of doing it all."
The Government considered making the payment itself but
Cabinet decided against doing so, drawing fire from the
Opposition. Labour leader David Cunliffe last month said a
Government he led would pay out the families and recover the
money through pressure on the shareholding companies.
Mr Cunliffe said the result backed his position.
"The combined view of fair-minded New Zealanders - that in
the first instance the company should pay and in the second
instance the Government should stand behind it - is at odds
with the position taken by John Key which is that the
families should be left to fend for themselves.
"The objective has always been that the shareholder companies
would pay. The Government would just underwrite that during
the process so that the families don't miss out."
A spokesman for Attorney General Chris Finlayson underlined
Cabinet's stance that "there is no cause of action for
further compensation from the Government".
"The families have received compensation through ACC on the
same basis as any family that suffers a workplace or accident
death," he said. "ACC has so far paid the families around $5
million, and in the long-term they could receive up to $20
Mr Finlayson's spokesman said Mr Cunliffe's plan to pressure
shareholders to pay was impractical.
"There is no legal basis on which the government could force
shareholders to pay Pike River's legal debts, nor can the
government of the day use the statutorily independent Super
Fund or ACC as a private fund to pay for political promises."
- Adam Bennett of the NZ Herald