The modern urge to label leaders who perform adequately during an emergency as ‘heroes’ astounds me. Particularly in the case of Pike River. Peter Whitall is a boss who just had 29 workers die on his work-site. While reserving judgment on his blame for that, I’m not going to call him a hero for doing a decent job for the cameras.
So, he didn’t freak out and he tried to answer questions – good job but how is that heroic? It’s like how Bob Parker was deified for his media appearances after the earthquake (even though his leadership on the rebuilding work in the worst affected suburbs is a disgrace) or how George W Bush won a huge approval rating for managing not to sh*t himself after 9/11. Merely meeting expectations, to my mind at least, isn’t heroic.
Now, Farrar is mocking what he calls union attacks on a national hero – “Fresh from the PR triumph of attacking Sir Peter Jackson” ha ha ha. Yeah, well it turned out Jackson and Warners were screwing us for millions in return for no tangible gain, didn’t it?
The EPMU and CTU are quite right to say: ‘hang on a minute, before we declare this guy a saint, let’s remember that 29 men, whose safety he was responsible for, lost their lives in his mine’.
I’m not saying Whitall is necessarily to blame. I’m agreeing with Andrew Little: “We need to reserve judgment until we get credible answers to questions about why it all happened. The company has been treated as somewhat heroic and in a way I think it’s somewhat undeserving.”
The fact that a lawyer employed by Whitall and the mine is trying to sit in on the interviews of witnesses only makes me less willing to call the guy a hero.
I’ve no doubt that Whitall is personally heart-broken by the deaths and it may be that, ultimately, he and the company are cleared of any wrong-doing. But, until that time, I’m not prepared to laud the man. As it stands, he hasn’t even apologised for the deaths at his mine.
PS. I’m also not a great fan of the miners being labeled ‘heroes’ or ‘brave’. It seems to me that such labels somehow validate or excuse their deaths. They weren’t in the mine because they were brave men taking on a challenge in which risk is natural. They were working men doing a job to support their families and, while mining is inherently dangerous, they oughtn’t have lost their lives in the process. Even the mine admits that the explosion that killed them should not happen in a modern mine.