Armstrong on Pike River

November 6th, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

In its most damning criticism, the Commission says Wilkinson’s department should have prohibited Pike from operating the mine until its health and safety systems were adequate.

Given the mine opened in November 2008 – just a month before Wilkinson became Minister of Labour – there would have been demands for her resignation as her department’s woeful performance happened on her watch.

Certainly the mine did operate during her watch, and she has resigned. But the interesting thing is that Armstrong has reported that the Department of Labour should never ever have allowed to start operating.

The Minister, when it did start operating, was Trevor Mallard – not Kate Wilkinson.

Now I say this not do do a blame game. I don’t think either Mallard or Wilkinson are to blame. And I think David Shearer’s statement that Labour accepts responsibility for their period in Government was the right thing to do, as was the PM’s apology for the failings of the current Government for the lack of oversight. But it is an important fact that the report finds the mine should never have been allowed to open.

Where this goes now is in two directions.

The first is the Government’s formal response to the recommendations.

The second is the prosecutions of Pike River Coal and certain former managers. The findings of the Royal Commission are incredibly damning with regard to them.

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22 Responses to “Armstrong on Pike River”

  1. iMP (2,385 comments) says:

    I agree. If we are going to have intrusive Govt. nanniness in our lives, especially in business, over things like ACC, tax, OSH etc etc, then when 29 men die directly because of Govt regulatory behaviour, Govt must be punished. The Managers should be punished, and the board. This should be financial, even criminal, and money – lots of it – should go to the families.

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  2. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    And Samantha Hayes this morning joins her TV3 colleagues in a race to the bottom by, somehow, conflating John Keys respect for the Pike River miners with his comments about Beckham and gay shirts. They really are partisan incompetents aren’t they.

    What happened to the fourth estate – where did it go?

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  3. kowtow (8,487 comments) says:

    one track

    Our media are almost literally ambulance chasers,they are of the lowest order. If they were doing their job as they claim to,these issues should be exposed before tragedies occur.

    They simply wait around to breathlessly report incidents, then claim to be journalists,all the while dreaming of a scoop and some ridiculous annual award,from a foreign airline.

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  4. Ender (105 comments) says:

    What confounds me most of what I have heard is the workers themselves bypassing methane safety cutouts on machinery to keep it going whilst explosive levels of the gas are present. Incredible lack of regard for one’s own safety even in that culture of “production before safety”.

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  5. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    All this report and the whole pike river episode only goes to prove is that de-regulation doesnt work.

    Its always been the same – and always will be – that de-regulation simply doesnt work. Well certainly not the hands off system NZ has been trying.

    The building industry has something like 80,000 leaking houses (or leaky buildings)
    The investment industry is a shambles (following on from the deregulation of the stock market as far back as 1984)
    The dairy industry is heading for a fall as desecration of the environment is taken into account.
    and now we see the result of self regulation in the mining industry.
    Next I guess will be the ‘self regualtion’ of the liquor industry………………………

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  6. Mike Readman (363 comments) says:

    Yeah barry, because whoever happens to be PM certain knows better than the population as whole.

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  7. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    Do people know if we could simply mandate open mining? Would that work technically?

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  8. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    barry, you think the nine years of Helen Clark were all about deregulation?

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  9. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    BTW, Barry, the leaky building was not due to deregulation but to to REGULATION. Houses were built according to a government approved standard. The government authority that approved it conveniently disappeared, so you couldn’t sue it anymore.

    It’s the opposite Barry, it’s the interference with governments in the market that make these things happen. Ah, the government is involved, ah the government sets the standards, ah the government has regulated it, then it must be good.

    What do you think miners would do if the government had set no standards, and some private company had asked them to work for them? Would they not have inquired very carefully if the safety of the mine was sufficient?

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  10. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    If the miners were as reckless as the Commission found, do Kiwis really need in fact to be bossed round and have their hands held by the government to make us behave properly?
    If so, it’s a sad old world. Perhaps we do need the nanny state so the media can keep on reporting private conversations and off the cuff quips – the real news!

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  11. BeaB (2,123 comments) says:

    Will Trevor Mallard man up? Will he heck?

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  12. Manolo (13,780 comments) says:

    Will Trevor Mallard man up?

    The socialist thug never does!

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  13. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Berend – the building mess was caused by the BSI falling for the stories that CHH and others were pushing at them.

    CHH was pushing untreated timber (I think they called it Laser something) and CHH convinced the BSI that it was borer proof and amost rot proof.
    Then the greens convinced the BSI that sealed buildings were good for heat retention (but they forgot that sealed buildings would never dry out because there was no ventilation).
    As part of this belief in sealed insulation then along came the foam plastic boys who convinced the BSI that even more insulation was good for everyone.

    You see – the problem was that the BSI was changed so that it was run by Market Forces. Of course the Market Forces were pretty much another word for “lets supply this crap which costs us bugger all, but because we will tell them that its even better than anything else, we will be able to sell it for a higher price”

    The regulations you talk about were regulations that allowed for a ‘free for all’ situation.

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  14. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    > Certainly the mine did operate during her watch, and she has resigned.

    She resigned 2 years after the disaster. It took all of 2 years for the penny to drop. Given the other failures of this administration and the failure of the PM to show any morals or ethics, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by Wilkinson’s inability to do the right thing.

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  15. RF (1,399 comments) says:

    There is a suggestion that the miners at Pike did not run a tight ship and this was revealed when after the first explosion there was confusion concerning who was down the mine. I understand and i stand to be corrected that some name tags on the board had not been removed by the previous shift thus a greater number was initially thought to be trapped. In an Aussie mine this could result in instant dismissal.

    Has this been mentioned previously ?

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  16. RRM (9,924 comments) says:

    I just heard one of the international mining experts on the news saying the Pike River management’s disorganisation and ignorance of safety principles was the worst he’d ever seen – worse than anything he’d seen in places that are [quote] “pretty bad” like Turkey and Russia.

    It’s odd but reading Kiwiblog over several years I got the impression that in bureaucratic, politically correct little old New Zealand, supposedly you can’t do anything without tripping over a forest of red tape, greenies, and the socialist government that stops anyone from doing anything to make money???

    Evidently in the real world it’s a bit different, and thoughtless and/or unscrupulous business cnuts like Whittall WILL rape the staff / send them to their graves in order to maximise profits that last few percent on behalf of the shareholders. All hail the shareholders!

    Sad that it took mass deaths to remind people that things can go wrong even in New Zealand… and the notion that business people can be trusted to self-regulate dangerous industries, and the Government should not interfere in business and the freedom of contract is actually a crock of shit, dreamed up by people in safe offices above ground…

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  17. Dazzaman (1,140 comments) says:

    …I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by Wilkinson’s inability to do the right thing.

    Soooo…what do you reckon ross69? Should she slit her wrists publicly on One News? Will that placate you? The govt have apparently said they will look to implement much of the report…be happy.

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  18. barry (1,317 comments) says:

    Ross69 – don’t be a dork.

    The consents for this mine were approved by the labour government about 1999. Your comments suggest that all ministers of all governments from that time should be publicly flailing themselves with barbed wire to keeps the likes of you happy.

    The rot started with Rogernomics back in the 80’s – and this crap about ‘let the market rule’ was supported by all sides for years after that. About the last person to have liability for this is Wilkinson.

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  19. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    She should have resigned immediatly.

    Obama on the other hand, really deserves a second term.

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  20. Cow Cocky (18 comments) says:

    Yes, this is another piece of evidence that the “free market” philosophy has failed. I used to be a fan but since 2008 to much damage has occurred. Read Michael Sandel’s – What Money Cant Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.

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  21. Waymad (136 comments) says:

    I consulted a bit for PRCC (as it was originally). Was in and out quite a bit in the very early days. My work was admin-related, far away from the mining and engineering side. But I’m a bit of a talker and asker of questions, and the tech guys did show me enough plans and talk through them for me to form a fairly good opinion based on the later revelations. I left the show well before they’d even finished the stone drive, and even then they had burnt through a hundred milly and change of investor’s cash.

    Point #1 : it was an uphill drive. That’s unusual in coal mining, because it means that light gasses like methane will always collect at the top of the drive, right where yer don’t want ‘em. Uphill, because the Grand Plan was to slurry out the coal: two pipelines laid downhill to a dewatering plant and loading area, trucked to rail, railed to Lyttelton.

    Point #2 : it seems to have been a gassy mine. No surprise there, because a lot of the Coast mines do tend this way.

    Point #3 : they hadn’t finished the main roads through the coal: the road headers were still working at the time, and production as originally envisaged (hydro-mining at the face, slurry it out) had not settled in as yet.

    Point #4 : the ventilation was behind all of this – working against the slope. So it was evidently a patchy venting at best.

    Point #5 : a road header operator said that he had frequently struck sparks off the working face – stones or a patch of rock.

    So connect the dots. Gas, collecting at the very top of the roads, exactly where the headers worked, which sparked.

    End of story.

    And this has little to do with Gubmint, inspection, and all the rest.

    Design, pure and simple.

    Ya put a V8 in a Robin Reliant, ya gets issues.

    Ya mine uphill into gassy coal, venting well downhill, and ya spark from the cutter heads. Issues.

    I’m frankly not sure that any Department could have outguessed the geologists, engineers and others, and said NO early enough to make a difference.

    Now if Pike had been permitted (by DOC, it’s all conservation estate on top of the mine drives) to vent in front of their workings….

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  22. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I would like to see a good journalist or blogger compare the respective inquires into Cave Creek and Pike River and see what picture that paints of organizations that have spent the better part of three decades in a series of reforms to improve accountability. Judge Noble rather pathetically concluded that the system was too blame for the Cave Creek fiasco. Denis Marshall resigned in a painless gesture. Another commission reports nearly 20 years later and what do we see? Who will be held to account for a Department’s regulatory failure this time? Another symbolic resignation and some more organizational shuffling?
    In the 1980s we were told that accountability in the public sector needed to be improved and that we should boost the authority of chief executives to achieve this – with commensurate rewards. Where to now?

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