Since he came to office, John Key’s government has spent over $350 billion (and borrowed over $50 billion). It has handed out taxpayer largesse to casinos, rich sailors, finance companies, and international corporations. So, why the blunt refusal to pay just $3.4 million to the Pike families and lean on the shareholders to get the cash back, as David Cunliffe has said he will do? Does Key have a tin ear or cold heart?
Let’s, first, get Key’s excuses out of the way. Key claims that it would set a precedent of the government getting involved every time a company goes belly up. He misses the point. This is not about a company that went belly up, this is a company that had 29 men die in its employment. The judge ruled the shareholders had a moral duty to pay the compensation that the company couldn’t. This is a very specific instance of shareholders who profited from recklessness refusing to accept their responsibilities.
So, what’s Key’s real reason for not putting up the cash and then pressuring the shareholders to get it back, as Cunliffe would?
Is it a tin ear to the politics of the situation? After all, the politics of this is simple: a tiny amount of money for families that are undoubtedly worthy and a ready-made cast of villains. Key could have, should have, done what Cunliffe did. If he had put his mind to it, he would have done it with aplomb. Have Key’s political instincts just deserted him?
I don’t think so. I think that, at the end of the day, Key just doesn’t give a damn about working families the way that he does about corporates and rich sailors. And NZ Oil & Gas (the main Pike River shareholder) are mates of this government, Key doesn’t turn on his mates. Key is content to make excuses for not paying the families because, when you boil it down, they’re not his class of people, and ensuring justice for people like them isn’t part of his government’s project. His heart is cold to them.
Thank goodness Cunliffe’s isn’t.