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The Pike River deal of the century

Written By: - Date published: 10:08 am, December 13th, 2013 - 57 comments
Categories: david cunliffe, john key, Mining, uncategorized - Tags:

There is increasing disquiet about the decision to withdraw all charges against Peter Whittall over the deaths of the Pike River miners and the role of the Government in what has happened is going to be put under intense scrutiny.  Because the whole thing has the stench of merchant banking deal making rather than the sober and proper prosecution of someone for serious offences involving the needless deaths of 29 workers.

There has already been one full hearing into the disaster.  The Government appointed Royal Commission concluded after hearing considerable evidence that “even though the company was operating in a known high-hazard industry, the board of directors did not ensure that health and safety was being properly managed and the executive managers did not properly assess the health and safety risks that the workers were facing. In the drive towards coal production the directors and executive managers paid insufficient attention to health and safety and exposed the company’s workers to unacceptable risks. Mining should have stopped until the risks could be properly managed.”

In the prosecution of Pike River Ltd under the HSIE Act Judge Farrish slammed the company for a “total lack of remorse” because of claims that it could not afford to pay reparation to the families.  She is quoted as saying “It is not often a company steps back and holds its hands up and says ‘I have nothing’. Even a company in a fragile state usually comes forward and offers reparation, but here nothing has been forthcoming.  I am satisfied the company has the means to pay either by existing shareholders or a combination of the shareholders and directors. I note that the directors have significant insurance.”  Despite the claims of poverty Judge Farrish ordered payment of reparation of $110,000 to each of the deceased’s families and to the two survivors.  The total of these payments is $3.41 million.

The compensation was not paid.  David Cunliffe took up the cause and asked in Parliament why the Government did not contribute to these payments, after all it had indirectly received as shareholders of the companies involved an insurance payout.  His questioning of John Key was the first time that I have seen Key completely and utterly embarrassed in the house.

This was increasingly becoming an issue of deep embarrassment to the Government.

Yesterday’s bombshell announcement that charges were being withdrawn and that the insurance company was going to pay $3.41 million compensation has caused increasing disquiet.  Helen Kelly and the CTU are thinking about seeking a judicial review of the case.  Bernie Monk on behalf of the families has called the payment “blood money”.  I presume the payment is to satisfy the order of compensation originally made by Judge Farrish.

I am sure that Judge Farrish has acted with the best of intentions.  She is obviously deeply concerned for the families and wants to do the best for them.  But the coupling of the payment with the withdrawal of the charges creates the unfortunate impression that payment of money in this case may have avoided a prosecution.  And besides it was money that should have been paid anyway.

This neatly solves a political problem for the Government.  Instead of being open to criticism for not paying its share of the $3.41 million one of its departments agrees not to prosecute and magically the payment is made and a particular political wound is cauterised.

For the sake of the sanctity of our justice system this needs to be investigate fully.  The decision making process and political input into the decision to withdraw the charges should be examined carefully.  Simon Bridges’ claim that legal privilege applied even before has a ring of misplaced bravado about it.  Before we even know what documents are being talked about he is claiming legal privilege and you have to wonder if there is something that National wants to hide.

We have not heard the last of this issue.  And down on the West Coast there are 29 families still wanting to see justice done so that they can have closure.

57 comments on “The Pike River deal of the century”

  1. Bill 1

    This neatly solves a political problem for the Government.

    Indeed it does. No Pike river trial dominating headlines during an election period being negatively associated with the National Party.

    And if I can paste a further quote from your post – and of course, heaven forbid any chorus starts up to the effect something untoward is being suggested by my juxtapositioning this with the first, totally unrelated first part of my comment…

    the whole thing has the stench of merchant banking deal making

    • Paul 1.1

      “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

    • mickysavage 1.2

      No Pike river trial dominating headlines during an election period being negatively associated with the National Party.

      Good point Bill and I had not though about that.

      The timing of the announcement just before Christmas and the day after Parliament finishes is also quite exquisite for the Government.

      • Paul 1.2.1

        Just read the book by Rebecca Macfie.
        Pike River happened because of criminal negligence and a desire for short term profit to pay off the loans provide by investors.
        The profits of powerful investors ( the sort Key worked for atMerrill Lynch) are now clearly more important than lives of 29 mine workers.
        It’s happening in forestry as well.
        NZ has become a paradise for billionaires and a hellhole for the rest of us.
        There are not words to describe who wrong this is.
        Oh..and NZ isn’t corrupt, is it?

        • Arfamo 1.2.1.1

          Oh..and NZ isn’t corrupt, is it?

          Well, yeah, maybe it is really, but it’s just reached a level of sophistication and pervasiveness that maybe isn’t matched anywhere else in the world and so hasn’t been twigged to yet by most. Perhaps we’re leading the world again in how to do things.

          • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 1.2.1.1.1

            Nah, the recent report wasn’t stating that NZ ‘isn’t corrupt’ it was stating that it is least corrupt.

            When you look at the state of, for example, both Britain and America and the way they are captured by big money- then saying it is “less than that” isn’t saying much.

            I wouldn’t flatter the corrupt ones in NZ as being ‘more sophisticated’ than crims elsewhere- quite the converse – they simply haven’t managed to reach the levels of influence that they have in other countries- although I do believe they are closing that difference fast since this government has been in.

            • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.1.1.1

              Nah, the recent report wasn’t stating that NZ ‘isn’t corrupt’ it was stating that it is least corrupt.

              Wasn’t even stating that. It was stating that NZ is percieved as the least corrupt. Perception and reality can be, and usually are, two different things.

              • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill)

                You are completely correct Draco, and I agree – I had forgotten the bit about perceived- my mistake.

          • Rogue Trooper 1.2.1.1.2

            still following North America and the Home Counties (so young, so impressionable).

        • Draco T Bastard 1.2.1.2

          The profits of powerful investors ( the sort Key worked for atMerrill Lynch) are now clearly more important than lives of 29 mine workers.

          And when has that not been true as far as the investors and the government are concerned?

          Yes, NZ is corrupt – very corrupt.

      • Arfamo 1.2.2

        McCready’s on the job:

        The man who successfully brought a private prosecution against ACT leader John Banks has vowed to take the former Pike River Coal boss to court.

        Former accountant, Graham McCready said he will file 29 counts of manslaughter against Peter Whittall.

        It comes a day after all 12 charges against him in relation to the 2010 mine disaster were dropped by the Crown.

        Mr McCready said he will file the charges in Wellington District Court, as it is closest to where Mr Whittall lives and will help keep costs down.

        http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11171948

        • karol 1.2.2.1

          Something wrong with that NZ Herald link. It’s the Herald’s problem. The link to the story from the Herald’s website mainpage, is broken too. Are they having second thoughts about the article?

          • Arfamo 1.2.2.1.1

            I dunno what’s up with it, Karol. The article’s still headlined. The link from that didn’t work for me either. Then I clicked on the “quick read” link, which did work. Then I clicked on the “Read Full Article” button in the “quick read” version, which worked. I just did the same again and it worked still. Try that.

            • karol 1.2.2.1.1.1

              OK. thanks, Arfamo. The quick read link worked for me.
              And the article ends with this:

              However, he said there are two matters which need to be addressed before he proceeds with lodging a private prosecution – a $1000 filing fee for which he is seeking public donations; and making contact with the families of the 29 men who lost their lives in the mine explosion to discuss what they want to do.

          • Arfamo 1.2.2.1.2

            That’s odd. When I click on the link I posted above it takes me straight to the full article. Maybe they’ve fixed it.

            Edit: Update. Yep, they have. Just went to the Herald and clicked on the headline and the link works now.

        • Paul 1.2.2.2

          Pity our legal system now relies on crusades like him because the basic system is stuffed.

        • Bill 1.2.2.3

          Going to be interested to see if the offer of 3.4 comes with strings attached – full and final settlement that closes the door on any future legal avenues of redress.

  2. blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 2

    …so we have a very convenient-for-the-government outcome to this court-case and another court-case slamming a blogger-cum-propaganda tool, who a few weeks earlier highly embarrassed the National party.

    I’m getting very concerned over the influence this National government appears to have over the judiciary.

    This crowd already appear to have severely degenerated the media since they’ve been in government.

    This type of influence may have always been around, yet it seems particularly strong with this government.

    What is going on??

    …and what can we do about it??

    • aerobubble 2.1

      Look, the moment they get into the mine, is the moment the evidence builds for the case to be reopened. Maybe the prosecution would rather have a slam dunk later, and seize on the opportunity to get the victims compensated. Only misgiving I have is that some how the payment is tied to the victims foregoing further legal action, then it would be ‘blood money’ its hard to tell given the poor meda coverage, but I doubt any prosecutor worth his or her name would be so immoral. No, seriously this is good for everyone at this time, since victims get compensation. And why would they not take it, it seriously erodes the former managers of the mine ability to pay for their defense.

  3. Merrial 3

    Cave Creek: nobody held accountable/brought to trial over that case, either. National government then, too.

    • Paul 3.1

      CTV building collapse
      Leaky homes
      Forestry deaths

      All down to deregulations of the neo liberals.

      However, the 4th Labour government were key players in this attack on Savage’s NZ and until the Labour Party denounces Douglas’s cabal, removes the dinosaurs like Goff who still are believers in the neoliberal nightmare, and says “sorry”then people won’t trust them either.

      • amirite 3.1.1

        +100

        Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of dead wood in the party that should have been chopped off.

      • aerobubble 3.1.2

        The free market will eventually provide a remedy for wrongs. Pollution will be remediation. Justice will be afforded by the free market. And yes there will be light and joy across the Earth. Even the free market can cause a collapse of the human species, just let it run and run.

        As if we ever wanted the free market to solve problems on its terms entirely.

  4. captain hook 4

    the tories think that because they get away with having an internal ventilation system then that is how the world works.no deal. They tried to pay the electorate off with a bill of goods and it came back and bit them on the bum.

  5. rich the other 5

    Two points,
    The prosecutor said a conviction was very unlikely so why would the prosecution proceed and (2) don’t forget the role conservationist played in the design of the mine. I think it was mallard caved into their demands and in an attempt to appease them it was consented as an under ground operation , there were other options.

    • blue leopard (Get Lost GCSB Bill) 5.1

      I just had this argument presented to me today. ‘It was conservationists fault’ – they stopped something from being built. This doesn’t address the problem. The company was not forced to continue.

      If the design was faulty – why did they proceed?

      • aerobubble 5.1.1

        Why indeed. Lucky National came to power and all but cut any second guessing.

        As for the notion that mining is pure profit, that’s an Australian story not a Kiwi one, when there’s near empty desert, allowing open cast mines. Its fool hardy for a government to them demand their means to growth is mining, had the National shonkey sloganizers lived in NZ they’d know how chronically fractured the geology.

    • dv 5.2

      The conservationist DID NOT prevent the construction of an appropriate ventilation system.

      • Bill 5.2.1

        Neither did they prevent a separate entry and exit being tunneled…as, I believe, is legally required and without which (only throwing this in because NZ was a UK colony and its industry was initially run by people from the UK while its laws still largely mirror UK law) no mine in the UK can operate since as far back as 1835 or some such date.

        Also didn’t prevent adequate methane detectors being installed or proper systems and procedures from being developed.

    • Bearded Git 5.3

      Rich, are you saying it is not possible to build a safe underground mine? What about the 100’s, probably 1000’s, of safe underground mines around the world. Try to keep up.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.4

      Typical right-wing lies.

      The conservationists didn’t stop the mine being built – we know this because it was built. Everything after that was the responsibility of Pike River Mine. If it didn’t have enough ventilation then they should have shut it down or built the proper ventilation.

      • aerobubble 5.4.1

        And the argument conservation stopped them building a prohibitively expensive road into the ranges to put in a second exit because the damn snails, or whatever, were so rare, is just dumb. Everything about the mine was cheap, nasty, and money oriented. The idea that they wanted more costs of a second exit in the ranges and no amount of money would be spare is ridiculous.

  6. Clifford Pain 6

    Watch this…. all the cast are there, the corporate boss demanding profits, the Dept of Labour, the workers with few options…….

    WESTRAY MINING DISASTER

    http://www.nfb.ca/film/westray:

    “Meet some of the working men, who felt they had no option but to stay on at Westray. And wives, who heard the rumors, saw their men sometimes bloodied from accidents and stood by them, hoping it would all turn out all right. This is a film about working people everywhere whose lives are often entrusted to companies that violate the most fundamental rules of safety and decency in the name of profit”

    Quote: “WHOSE JOB WAS IT TO CHECK THIS STUFF… ULTIMATELY THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THIS FAILURE RESTS WITH THE PEOPLE AT THE TOP”

    Mark Twain was right; history does not repeat it rhymes.

    I apologise for this (to dwell on the negative is a dangerous place to stay) but I sat aghast listening last night to even the defense lawyer effectively saying let’s roll over and accept this (as he takes home a nice pay check). National move into election mode (posted by someone else)…… everything is connected. One question you have to ask, who appointed the person that did the failed investigation……

  7. Philj 7

    Xox
    And Ministerial Responsibility? Where does the buck stop? A new low has been plumbed. An utterly disgraceful episode in NZ’s history. We have become a tragic joke, on our watch! Heads should roll! Justice has left the country and our system is totally stuffed. But we are the least corrupt country on Earth! Hahaha.

  8. tc 8

    potential 2014 slogans for the nats:

    The brighter future…..for our mates.
    Say goodbye to your loved ones….in forestry, mining, or just leaving NZ
    Catching up with Australia …..and their 18th century work practices
    Tough on crime…..we will be the judge of what one looks like and let them know.
    Kleptocracy….we’re relaxed about it.

  9. Arfamo 9

    John Key: The Herald

    “I think that they will be hurting as a result of that decision, but there’s really fundamentally nothing that I can do. It’s quite inappropriate for me to try and jump into something the prosecution, a judge and independent regulator have decided wouldn’t be successful.”

    Mr Key said a judicial review of the decision would be unlikely.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11172154

    That last sentence bothers me. Why is he so apparently certain of that?

  10. Tracey 10

    Arfamo

    because the way the law is currently framed may make it almost impossible to prove the charges. If nothing else a private prosecution might focus some minds to change the law.

    the fact that 2 former colleagues at pike river wont respond to subpoenas reflects badly on them and the so called closeness of nz and aussie that they cant be compelled. All happy to take the big bucks but accountability? Yea right!

    • Arfamo 10.1

      Frankly I’d love the election to be based on Pike River. It’s the end result of the neo-liberal approach to governance.

      • aerobubble 10.1.1

        Unions should call for a strike, that’s what they used to when their safety went ignored. Given the high numbers of dead in work places, forests, etc, and the undercurrent of profits first and foremost, we can’t afford not to take risks mentality, is it any wonder more will die.

      • tc 10.1.2

        And the rest:
        Pike River, Warner Brothers, Rio Tinto, Chorus, Meridian/Genesis/Air NZ/MRP, SCF, Fiscally negative tax cuts, SkyCity (especially the cost they picked up TVNZ land for), Higher standards for MP’s (Gilmore, Long, Wong, Blinglish, Bennett and her leaks etc), GCSB, Soiled Energy, national standards etc etc

        The party of business has destroyed alot of value, cut needed services and sent many years of experience down the road.

        Tried calling IRD lately, they can’t even put you on hold anymore just tell you they’re too busy.

      • BM 10.1.3

        So would I.
        Guaranteed electoral success for National.

  11. yeshe 11

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11171620

    Author Rebecca Macfie, whose book Tragedy at Pike River Mine looked at why the West Coast disaster happened, said she was shocked by yesterday’s court decision.

    It sent a message that New Zealand was a place where a company without experience or sufficient capital could set up in a highly hazardous industry, lurch from mistake to mistake, defy basic health and safety laws and kill workers without consequence, Macfie said.

    New Zealand should be “hanging its head in shame”.

    “Frankly, it’s an embarrassment. This makes New Zealand a laughing stock; the fact that nobody is accountable at the end of the day.

    “The only point of accountability in this whole bloody sad saga is a meaningless prosecution of a company that does not even exist any more in reality, because it’s broke.

    “No individuals who were the driving forces of this operation – and made pivotal decisions, and were in positions of responsibility to make decisions that could have averted this outcome – have been held to account.”

    Macfie said prosecutors had made an error in going after only chief executive Peter Whittall, and should have also gone after mine manager Doug White.

    • Colonial Viper 11.1

      Macfie said prosecutors had made an error in going after only chief executive Peter Whittall, and should have also gone after mine manager Doug White.

      This point is worth expanding on.

      Just heard Graham McCready talk on NAT RAD. “Whitall just got himself a $3.4M diversion programme. It’s not good enough.”

      Fucking legend.

      • yeshe 11.1.1

        100% — he should be Attorney General at this rate. How can we send him some support funds –anyone know ? And I thought Mcfie’s comments were also deserving of legend.

  12. Tigger 12

    There are bodies to be recovered in 2014. I hope National is buried by them.

    • aerobubble 12.1

      Where those bodies are found may show how inept the safety was, huge evidence to bring a case, and so it would be wise to take the money (unless it requires giving up further legal recourse).

      That’s the problem has the prosecutor promised not to re-litigate if the company pays out compensation, and if true, is this contempt of the order on the company to pay compensation (no strings).

      It is completely unfathomable that a court would agree to drop charges if compensation is paid, that must breach human rights, the right to due process of victims.

      And where is the sensible sentencing trust on this abuse of power, silent except when speak for the dead.

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