Pike River 'closure' complicated

It is possible many New Zealanders just want to move on from the Pike River Mine tragedy.

It is possible many wish the families of the 29 men who died in the explosions at the West Coast mine in November 2010 would just move on.

What is the point continuing to drag out the pain, many may believe? In all gruesome reality, after six years, what can possibly be left of their men to bring back home, as the families have continually called for? Let it go. Move on.

Yet, anyone who has lost a loved one knows loss is not something to be ``moved on'' from. Time ticks on certainly, life inches forward inexorably, those who are left grow older. But grief is not isolated at a point in time when tragedy occurred.

Loss walks alongside the bereaved, and sometimes it is a burden to be carried through generations. The more complicated the factors surrounding a death, the harder the grieving process can be, too. Acceptance can be much harder to reach if anger is not resolved.

The Pike River families have much to be angry about. Not only did they lose their men in New Zealand's worst mining disaster in more than 100 years, a 2012 royal commission of inquiry found the disaster was a preventable tragedy, and there were failures at every level.

It slammed both Pike River's management and board for a focus on production over safety, and the Department of Labour's record as the former health and safety regulator, labelling it ``third world''. Families learned the emergency response was flawed, delayed and would have hampered a rescue attempt if one had been deemed possible. (The commission found there wasn't reliable information to do so.)

There is still anger no-one has been held personally accountable.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson resigned and the families received an apology from then Prime Minister John Key. Pike River Coal was found guilty of nine charges, but was unable to pay the more than $3million reparation because it was in receivership. The families then had to fight for compensation from the Government, which ruled out a payment as it would set a precedent. They finally got the money - after all separate charges against former chief executive Peter Whittall were dropped and the insurance money set aside for his defence used as payment.

The families have had their hopes for re-entry raised and then dashed by new mine owner state-owned enterprise Solid Energy and promises made and broken by former prime minister John Key. They are now locked in battle over the sealing of the mine.

(Ironically, one of the factors being used against the hopes of re-entry are regulations under the new health and safety legislation adopted in the wake of the tragedy.)

Given the history then, there is little wonder a video leaked this week has caused further outrage. The video appears to show a robot and two mines rescue personnel working with no problems inside the drift only months after the second explosion. Families have consistently been told the mine and drift were too dangerous to enter.

If evidence has been withheld from the commission, the families and the public, that could shed light on the cause of the explosions and the state of re-entry, action must be taken for the good of all. It may be too late for justice, but authorities must learn from their mistakes and do the best possible by victims and their families.

If this evidence is the tip of the iceberg as claimed, closure of the mine should be halted until there is genuine closure of the case. Only then will any form of emotional closure ever be possible.

Comments

Well said. Mendacity from official quarters is not wanted.

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