Question of integrity

Prime Minister John Key and Solid Energy have some questions to address on the safety or otherwise of entering the drift at Pike River Mine following the release of a report this week.

An Official Information Request revealed WorkSafe New Zealand and Mine Rescue had advised Solid Energy it was technically feasible to re-enter the mine.

It is nearly four years since 29 men died in the explosions in the mine on the West Coast.

A staged plan to re-enter the mine and explore the tunnel up to a rockfall about 2.3km in from the mine portal has been approved and the Government has committed $7.2 million to the effort.

Moving into the tunnel - or drift - is seen as the first step to recovering the remains of the miners.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Tony Ryall, who did not seek re-election this year, issued a statement saying the decision to re-enter Pike River was one to be made by Solid Energy, not WorkSafe.

In an attempt to distance the Government from a company it owns, controls and to which it appoints the board, Mr Ryall said the Solid Energy board was ultimately accountable and legally responsible for the safety of people working at the Pike River site.

Any decisions on mine re-entry was its responsibility and its responsibility alone.

As in the case of the closure of the Hillside rail workshops and the downsizing of AgResearch's Invermay facility, the National-led Government has been quick to try to distance itself from decisions made by entities it controls and funds.

In the case of the mine, it is deplorable that it is nearly a year since it was said to be safe and that the information has not until now been revealed.

Yesterday, it was revealed the mines inspectorate entered the drift for the first time a month ago - and still no-one knew.

Families have been left in an untenable situation waiting for news of whether the remains of their loved ones might be recovered.

Greymouth Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said Solid Energy needs to accept the risk of going 2.3km into the mine is minimal. He understands there may be restrictions requiring two exits in a coal mine, but says no-one is going into a coal mine - they are going to a sealed area which is solid rock with no methane.

Mr Kokshoorn says there is a general consensus the likelihood of any miners being in the 2.3km stretch of mine is minimal.

Reports after the accident indicated nearly all the miners were in the coal mine, not in the drift.

There is only about another 400m that had not been searched by camera, but that should be checked for peace of mind of the families.

Solid Energy board chairwoman Pip Dunphy says the board understands the time it is taking to complete the evaluation of the risks is frustrating for family members and the company is trying to complete the work as quickly as it can.

It was the company's responsibility to make the decision and it would do so once it had all the information required.

The major question - yet to be answered - is what information is left to discover?

And why was the release of the information delayed until after the election result was declared?

Mr Key made it abundantly clear his last government would bring the remains, in whatever state they were found, back to the families.

While some families were at peace with their sons, husbands and fathers being left where they were, others wanted a final goodbye.

The Labour Party, meanwhile, is so intent on self-destruction that the party founded on the West Coast is not involving itself in the political process of demanding answers, leaving it to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Mr Peters points out Solid Energy was propped up by the taxpayer to the tune of $100 million recently and $125 million last year, yet at the same time it is content to manipulate the Official Information Act and prevent New Zealanders from finding out what is really happening.

It took almost a year for the true situation to be revealed. Now that it has, the integrity of Mr Key, his Cabinet, and Solid Energy - propped up by taxpayer money - is at stake.

Accountability must be the cornerstone of the new government's term - and it should start with the Pike River Mine.

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