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The Dreamworld tragedy is a perfect metaphor for a failing system

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, October 29th, 2016 - 71 comments
Categories: business, capitalism, disaster, health and safety, Unions - Tags:


This week four innocent people lost their lives after a malfunction at the Dreamland fun park on the Gold Coast in Australia.  All sorts of inquiries are under way and no doubt the Australian equivalent of Health and Safety as well as the police are reviewing matters to see if and what charges should be laid.  The police are treating the matter as a homicide as they should.  People should not go to an amusement park and lose their lives.   Call me old fashioned …

Already circumstances are pointing to a major failing on behalf of the corporation involved.  It is not as if the cause of the accident was completely unpredictable or a figurative act of god.  Because the Australian Union Movement had been complaining for a while about lax standards and shoddy maintenance and the potential for disaster at the site, all to no avail.  From 9News:

Dreamworld workers feared they or visitors would be seriously injured for more than a year leading up to the tragedy that claimed the lives of four people this week, union officials say.

Persistent safety and maintenance concerns dating back to April last year will be detailed in an extensive dossier prepared for the coroner by the Australian Workers’ Union, the Courier Mail reports.

It is believed the dossier, which will be finalised today, will outline fears that maintenance work was not carried out in accordance with manufacturer guidelines and that the wrong engineers may have been tasked with looking after rides.

The document could also reportedly allege workers who voiced such concerns were bullied or intimidated.

AWU secretary Ben Swan said the union had held numerous talks regarding safety and maintenance with Dreamworld owner Ardent Leisure, but those talks often broke down.

He said in April last year the union lodged a freedom of information request related to a separate industrial accident but was denied.

“What I can say is that it’s now a matter of public record, because we put right to information requests into the ­division of Workplace Health and Safety that we had ­concerns,” Mr Swan told the newspaper.

Get the feeling that in pursuit of increased profitability maintenance standards were pared to the bone?  And the response to the Union’s clearly well placed concerns were typical of modern corporate behaviour?  Bullying and intimidating workers who raise legitimate concerns about safety should not be allowed to happen.  Because inevitably the workers know what is going on and should be listened to not intimidated.

The aftermath of the tragedy has also been a textbook case of how insensitive and tone deaf corporates can be to any suggestion of fault.

In the same week as the tragedy the chief executive Deborah Thomas was awarded a bonus of AUS$850,000 for her apparently exemplary performance.  She has promised to donate the cash proportion of her bonus, a fifth of the total, to charity.  The sense of calibration is high.  She does not have to sell any stock.  A human being may have wanted to donate all of the bonus to the victims families.

No doubt the disaster occurred at least in part because Thomas oversaw a system that cut costs to the bone.  The excuse, that the bonus was based on her performance during the past financial year and so could not take into account what happened this week is the sort of rationale a heartless lawyer would suggest.  While technically correct it grates.

And then there was the proposal that the park reopen two days after the tragedy.  There was another carefully calibrated response with the added feature that the money would be donated to charity but you get the impression that the offering to charity was a business decision calculated to allow the park to reopen as soon as possible and the cashflow to continue.

And there was the utter clusterfuck where the Chief Executive claimed that Dreamworld had been in contact with the families of the victims but the reality was that they had not.  We live in a post truth world.  But there is still an expectation that what people say has an approximate relationship with reality.

From Radio NZ:

Ardent Leisure, which owns Dreamworld, held its annual general meeting in Sydney today, and faced fierce questioning from media about the deadly incident.

At the news conference, Ardent Leisure CEO Deborah Thomas said the company had reached out to the families affected and had “finally made contact with the Dorsett family” to offer “every assistance that we can”.

However, a journalist later told Ms Thomas that the Dorsett family was watching the news conference and was “furious” at the suggestion they had been offered support from Dreamworld management.

“We didn’t call the Dorsett family directly because we didn’t know how to contact them, so we have been to the police liaison officer,” Ms Thomas said.

“I will not call her now in front of the media, but I am very happy to call her very soon after this meeting.

“Yesterday was all about trying to get hold of the families so we could offer assistance, and we have it back from the police that they have made contact with them.

“And my understanding was that our people would be with them today. So, please, give me that [phone] number, thank you.”

So we went from the company had made contact with the victim’s family and had offered every assistance that it can to it did not contact the victim’s family and could the reporter give their contact phone number.  Post truth on steroids.

The incident is so sad.  Innocent people lost their lives because corporate greed stopped proper maintenance occurring despite the trade union movement urging that this occur.  The post death response from the Corporation seemed to be calculated to maintaining cash flow rather than dealing with a human tragedy.  And the attempt to suggest that the Corporation had been in touch with the victim’s family when they had not is as perfect an example of post truth reality as you can imagine.

71 comments on “The Dreamworld tragedy is a perfect metaphor for a failing system ”

  1. Richard Rawshark 1

    and currently a bus ticket is getting carefully wetted with a moist cotton bud, and tweasers are on standby to apply.

    Seriously though, well done the Union for documenting it, and getting that legal documents rubber stamped, lets now see the corp lawyers talk there way out of that.

    There has to be personal consequences, not consequences to a business name, we need to make the directors of corporations liable, it’s the only way we will ever get management to act properly.

    • David H 1.1

      Except for the poor 18 year old on their first day, and put in charge of the emergency shutdown button, will no doubt be thrown under the bus. No matter how traumatised she is.

  2. Gristle 2

    There is no need to look to Australia for problems caused by focus on dollars at the expense of safety. Delta/Aurora electricity distribution has featured for the last week in the ODT as a company that has been guilty of the same thing in Dunedin and Central Otago.

    A friend, who is in the industry, told me that Delta’s pole failure rate is about 6 times worse than the minimum level acceptable in Australia. And in reality the Australian industry out performs Delta/Aurora by a factor of 12 to 20 times.

    Poles hitting the ground will cause damage and injury or deaths.

    The Dunedin City Council is the owner and has consistently pushed for profits to fund its debt over an extended period of time. Management in Delta are bonused if they do not exceed budgets: Quality and safety are seen as being discretionary items.

    Hopefully other NZ electricity distribution companies have better attitude to public safety.

  3. save nz 3

    Shocking. The rise of the lawyer & shonky PR firms that advices on what to do in these situations, is one of the reason’s that the outcomes are so dishonest and dehumanising.

    For the CEO to get a bonus after being in charge of a park that just killed 4 people is outrageous. The idea that if you have a ‘good year’ and only kill a few people at the end of it then all is well is a joke.

    Then offering part of the CEO bonus to charity rather than the victims families is heartless.

    Shutting down the unions about safety should make it a criminal investigation when their fears are found to be correct. Who was told about the safety issues and what they did about it.

  4. AmaKiwi 4

    “No government oversight” is a cornerstone of neo-liberalism.

    What would our house prices be if there were no tax evading foreign criminals bidding up prices? National refuses to ask foreign tax authorities if taxes have been paid in the buyer’s home country.

    How can my kids ever outbid dirty money from foreign criminals?

    Money laundering is an international crime. But if National refuses to look for it, it doesn’t exist!

  5. Keith 5

    Sadly, incredibly, embarrassingly, call it what you like, but NO one was ever held responsible for the avoidable disaster and tragedy that was Pike River. Our corporate sponsored, business friendly government ensured the buck never stopped and if you’ve read Dirty Politics John Key did him self no favours on the victims front either.

    As sure as death and taxes we could be guaranteed that if this happened here no exec would ever have to worry.

    • save nz 5.1

      @Keith +100 – the lack of justice over Pike River is something that will be etched in NZ history as is, the unbelievable lack of safety and rigour in processes and set up of the mine.

    • ropata 5.2

      +1 NZ now has a culture of poor oversight, slipshod standards, and low enforcement in many industries.

      Hence Pike River, the Rena wreck, the MAF Fish dumping scandal (still no prosecutions), the CTV collapse in Christchurch, Leaky homes (about to be repeated BTW), dodgy ESOL/tertiary schools, fake police stats, dangerous drivers everywhere

  6. Draco T Bastard 6

    Get the feeling that in pursuit of increased profitability maintenance standards were pared to the bone?

    Yes, that is exactly what happened thus all of the directors need to be charged with murder and all their possessions confiscated as proceeds of crime. The corporation also needs to be confiscated as proceeds of crime as well – the shareholders should damn well have been keeping an eye on the directors and making sure that things were up to scratch.

    The post death response from the Corporation seemed to be calculated to maintaining cash flow rather than dealing with a human tragedy.

    The only thing that the corporation cares about is the money. This is why our business based society is destroying itself – it simply cannot conceive of anything more important than money or being rich.

  7. ropata 7

    There is a distinct lack of engineers and workers at Board level of a lot of these companies. The narrow focus on profits above all is toxic and unsustainable.

    Transnational corporations should be illegal.

    • AB 7.1

      This is very common. The people who actually know how things work are paid a tiny amount compared to those who don’t.

  8. roy cartland 8

    Her bonus will only be affected if the incident costs the shareholders expected profits. That’s what it is for – making them more money, nothing else. It’s the kind of world we live in.

  9. Groundhog 9

    What a delightful piece of writing. Standing on the graves of the victims to make a sick political point.

    When the victims have been buried, and the families allowed to mourn, I’ll publish some examples of disasters caused by government enterprises in socialist economies. But not before.

    • Draco T Bastard 9.1

      And the RWNJ comes out to defend the indefensible.

      The whole action of the business was political. The deaths were caused by those politics.

      In other words, it was us that politicised it but the very nature of the system that caused this tragedy to happen.

      • Chuck 9.1.1

        The whole action of the business was political. The deaths were caused by those politics.”

        I think best to wait for the investigation to conclude. If as MickySavage implies it was due to cutting corners…then the full weight of the law should come down on those reasonable.

        I do concur with Groundhog that the timing of this post is not in good taste.

        • weka

          What would have been an ok amount of time? Genuinely curious.

          • Chuck

            Once the findings of the investigation have been released. So how ever long that takes weka.

            Then unless hell down upon those responsible…(if the findings support MS post).

            I have an engineering background, so am comfortable it will not be hard for the investigators to obtain the facts of what caused this tragedy.

            I have no knowledge of the control system for the ride, but maybe human error could also be involved? But I am making assumptions myself then.

            • Chuck

              I meant to say “unleash hell” not unless hell…In Vino is going to have a field day.

            • weka

              Do you mean no political commentary on the accident for months? So nothing about the union warnings, or how the CEO handled things? What would be the reason for not talking about those things?

              • Chuck

                “Do you mean no political commentary on the accident for months?”

                Not months, at least wait until the victims are buried.

                “So nothing about the union warnings, or how the CEO handled things?”

                As above, the union warnings no doubt will form part of the investigation.

                “What would be the reason for not talking about those things?”

                IMO its all about timing, and then ideally any “talking” would be based on fact and not assuming.

                I also just heard the Queensland state Government has stepped in to audit all theme parks. This will be very interesting to see what the audit turns up.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  Of course it’s all about timing. You want the latest news du jour to relegate this to the inside pages, because it makes your dogma look like shit, and you’re quite happy to pretend concern for the victims in the meantime.

                  Anything but discuss the facts.

                • weka

                  “Do you mean no political commentary on the accident for months?”

                  Not months, at least wait until the victims are buried.

                  But you’ve just said that the ok amount of time would be Once the findings of the investigation have been released. I assume that would be months. Now you are saying it’s until the dead are buried.

                  Which makes a nonsense of your statement “IMO its all about timing, and then ideally any “talking” would be based on fact and not assuming.”

                  The CEO’s handling of the issue is a fact. The union having been talking about safety issues for a year is a fact. But not all aspects of tragedies are factual, they are also about how people make sense of such things. Talking helps.

                  Unfortunately you appear to be politicising the issue i.e. you don’t like what is being said so you are using the tragedy as a reason to stop people talking about the politics of the situation.

                  If this accident had happened in NZ, I think the timing issues would be much more sensitive. But it happened overseas and despite the close ties between NZ and OZ, it seems appropriate to me that people talk through the issues as they come up.

                  • Chuck

                    “Which makes a nonsense of your statement”

                    “IMO its all about timing, and then ideally any “talking” would be based on fact and not assuming.”

                    The key word I was replying to was “NO commentary”. However going straight to the blame game, and then using those assumptions to further certain held beliefs, should wait until the facts are known.

                    “Unfortunately you appear to be politicising the issue i.e. you don’t like what is being said so you are using the tragedy as a reason to stop people talking about the politics of the situation.”

                    Far from it weka, you are trying to twist things.

                    I don’t have any issue with any person/s or company / corporation / Govt department etc. being held accountable for lax safety standards.

                    BTW: I don’t see it as a left or right issue, which is properly why we disagree???

                    • weka

                      Maybe you can clarify then. I asked when was a good time to start writing posts about what happened? You said initially that it was after investigations had reported back, then you said it was once the dead were buried. Those are very different time frames and appear to have different reasonings behind them.

                      “I don’t have any issue with any person/s or company / corporation / Govt department etc. being held accountable for lax safety standards.”

                      How nice for you. Meanwhile people want to make sense of a tragedy and be able to talk about it, and you are strongly implying that there is something wrong with them for doing so because of timing, which you say could be this week or months away.

                      Maybe it’s because you came into the conversation in response to Groundhog, who was blatantly making it a political issue. You said,

                      “I do concur with Groundhog that the timing of this post is not in good taste.”

                      As far as I can tell you want people to not talk about responsibility until after investigations have reported back. Again, does that rule out talking about the union? About the CEO?

                      People who followed Pike River know the inanity of your suggestion.

                      I also don’t see it as a left/right issue. Safety transcends that political divide. However it’s pretty clear from this discussion that opinions fall into classic left/right divides.

        • Draco T Bastard

          I do concur with Groundhog that the timing of this post is not in good taste.

          I don’t. It’s best that we talk about it now so that it and the causes can be addressed now rather than being swept under the rug later with things continuing as if nothing happened.

          • ropata

            Correct, now is exactly the time to address these important issues, rather than listen to PR from a corporate mouthpiece like Groundhog. Justice demands it.

            What *was* in poor taste was the attempt by Dreamworld to carry on BAU 2 days later

        • Robertina

          What we can say at this point:
          – Dreamworks had politicised the safety problem leading up to the tragedy by claiming the union would use the incident reporting docs for ‘political leverage’.

          – People who tut tut about politicising a tragedy are often the same ones who don’t respect the role unions play in preventing such tragedies.

          – Neither Dreamworks nor the union should have been expending resources and organisational focus in a fight over the release of documents. The goal should be to fix problems, not hide them. (Though the union had no choice as this had to be pursued, obviously).

          • Draco T Bastard

            People who tut tut about politicising a tragedy are often the same ones who don’t respect the role unions play in preventing such tragedies.

            They’re always RWNJs that don’t want business practices questioned.

          • Groundhog

            This event has nothing to do with politics. If you don’t understand that, you need to consult a dictionary. This is a business, just like any other. If they are found culpable, they will be rightly punished. In the meantime, there are four people dead.

            • Draco T Bastard

              This event has nothing to do with politics.

              It has everything to do with politics because it was politics that led to these deaths.

            • Robertina

              My dictionary defines politics as ”activities aimed at improving someone’s status or increasing power within an organisation”. It isn’t just decision-making at a national party political level but relates to the struggle between and within groups for power and agency.

              Apart from getting Dreamworld’s name wrong, I stand by my comment.
              Your insistence Dreamworld is a business ”just like any other” rather undermines your pious posturing about pre-judging the outcome of the investigation.

              Regardless of the outcome of this investigation trolls and ideologues will keep insisting that business and profit-seeking are neutral preordained activities. And that is a political worldview that leads to workplace deaths.

      • Groundhog 9.1.2

        “The whole action of the business was political.”

        Rubbish. It is a theme park. It is a business. You have no idea what even caused the deaths yet. You too are disgusting, dancing on the graves of the innocent.

        [you’ve already attacked an author. If you want to now attack commenters I suggest you reread the Policy about abuse. Only warning – weka]

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Digging the graves of guilty bloodsuckers just like you.

        • Draco T Bastard

          You have no idea what even caused the deaths yet.

          We have a fairly good idea – poor maintenance which seems to have been brought about by lack of regulation and that lack of regulation was brought about via the imposition of the ‘free-market’ which was brought about through political means.

          So, yeah, this tragedy is political and so is the business.

          You too are disgusting, dancing on the graves of the innocent.

          You’re the one defending actions that brought about the deaths of innocents.

          • Groundhog

            A fairly good idea based on media reports. The same media you don’t trust when they say anything you disagree with. I don’t know who’s to blame for this tragedy. I do know that it is utterly disgusting to make a political point out of it so soon.

            • Draco T Bastard

              The same media you don’t trust when they say anything you disagree with.

              I tend to take the MSM with a truckload of salt but I still listen to what they say and look for other sources. If the sources are saying the same thing then I consider it probably accurate.

              I don’t know who’s to blame for this tragedy.

              It’s a relatively simple hierarchy of blame. It starts with the business community lobbying the politicians for a decrease in regulation and then those same businesses then using that lack of regulation to cut corners so as to boost profits.

              I do know that it is utterly disgusting to make a political point out of it so soon.

              It was political as soon as it happened. What’s disgusting is you and others trying to hide that political aspect because you know that it’s a direct result of the political policies that you support.

        • Groundhog

          Are you seriously suggesting calling someone ‘disgusting’ is abuse? Have you read most of OAB’s posts?

          [I wasn’t referring to ‘disgusting’. Take a week off for wasting moderator time and refusing to take notice of the Policy. Fwiw, I am looking at patterns of aggressive behaviour that are intended to create conflict, and which affect other people’s ability to take part in and enjoy the debate. It also uses up more moderator time. I don’t think this is the first time I’ve banned you recently, so I’m guessing that from now on each ban will get longer – weka]

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            I don’t think this revolting sociopath intends to create conflict: Groundhog is just displaying his honestly held incompetence, impotence and wannabe sadism.

    • AB 9.2

      So a different type of corrupt authoritarian management is just as bad?
      What a sterling defence of private ownership!

      • Groundhog 9.2.1

        I am not defending anything. My point was the timing of the post, given the dead haven’t even been buried. Do you have anything constructive to add on that?

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          You only want to discuss it on your terms, you authoritarian bloodsucker.

          • Groundhog

            Discuss what? The death of four people for reasons yet unknown? The presumption and frankly sick politicking in the post?

            Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low.

            Read out their names.

            • Pasupial

              Groundhog Day
              Please don’t presume to tell other people what to do.
              If you want to read out dead people’s names for your own peculiar purposes then I won’t try to stop you.
              If you want to prevent people discussing the implications of this tragedy, then you might be better to address your comments to RNZ or 9News, which have a larger audience and are linked in the OP.

            • ropata

              Groundhog, the only person here being disrespectful and abusive is you. Stop with the emotive propaganda BS and blameshifting. How the fuck are we supposed to respect the dead, by pretending that everything is OK?

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              Joseph Dunbar, Jody Davis, Charles Finlay, Kaye Blance.

    • Richard Rawshark 9.3

      Like the family who watched the press conference and it’s lies, sat silent in grief you mean?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 9.4

      What a vile human being you are, attempting to legitimise corporate murder. The next time you call for deregulation in the face of all the evidence, remember you have blood on your hands.

      • Groundhog 9.4.1

        Remember at this stage there are grieving families and no-one knows yet the cause. This is the worst of left wing dirty politics playing out on the lives of the innocent. What scum.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Blood on your hands, trash.

          [drop the abuse, and make the political point clearer. I *really don’t want to be mopping up after a flame war today – weka]

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          The political point being that Groundhog shits on people in life, and then wants to compose the eulogy too.

          • Groundhog

            There is no political point, unless you are the sort of sicko you obviously are.

            • ropata

              If Groundhog actually cared about the victims s/he would be looking honestly for the reasons why they died, rather than coming on here and acting like the morality police.

              But I guess morality and honesty are foreign concepts to a narcissistic teenage wombat.

              And yes blood is on the pessimal wombat’s hands if s/he keeps trying to suppress the truth about companies that KILL people

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              there is no political point

              Translation: I want everyone to ignore the lessons that can be learned from corporate homicide, because I cannot imagine nor profit from a market in which I am responsible for my actions.

              That is what lawyers, lobbyists, and right wing politicians are for.

  10. Cinny 10

    Something that really troubled me about the whole horrid situation was the fact that the theme park wanted to open and donate any monies made that day to the Red Cross… the Red Cross?? !!!! Why would they suggest donating monies raised to the red cross rather than the families involved?? For me that was the penny dropper. Made me wonder whom controlled the red cross over there. Anyways glad the police decided to shut down the park for the meantime. So awful for all involved, the victims families, emergency crews and the workers.

  11. save nz 11

    We now know what sort of charity National should get to ‘solve’ our housing crisis.. sarc.

    The Red Cross’ Haiti disgrace: Half a billion dollars spent, six homes built


    • Richard Rawshark 11.1

      SaveNZ, I read that about Red X, what a shocker.

      It’s like punk rockers sold out and became CEO’s

      It’s like getting to look after snow white and then raping her.

      Someone gives you Bambi and tells you to look after her and you butcher and eat it.

      It’s like red riding hood is a wolf .

      How the hell could someone destroy the Red Cross and not commit Seppuka

  12. Ross 12

    Incredibly, the company wanted to re-open Dreamworld despite the fact that police were continuing their investigation. That says it all. The deaths of four people was an inconvenience to making money.

  13. Robertina 13

    ”The bonus was based on her performance during the past financial year and so could not take into account what happened this week is the sort of rationale a heartless lawyer would suggest. While technically correct it grates”

    Technically and legally though it should not hold up if it’s proven Dreamworld was not providing a safe work and leisure environment during the time that bonus was accruing. Given what we know already it seems highly likely to be the case.

  14. adam 14

    If she is willing to give to charity, what so wrong with paying her fair shear in taxes?

    This just sums up the whole attitude which is wrong with people at the moment. You are not going to be rich, because the rich won’t let you, but you seem to think you will – so you let them kick you in the guts repeatedly.

  15. mauī 15

    I find it surreal that a week ago, most of the public would look at Dreamworld as a positive company, providing jobs, fun and happiness.

    A week later, they’re effectively known as Hellworld, running machines of death, incompetent, slack safety, greedy. It’s like ripping away the curtain of what corporations present themselves as, and it’s a horrible picture with a complete absense of morals and care or regard for human life. There’s a whole bunch of other companies doing the same thing too, just they haven’t been exposed yet.

    • ropata 15.1

      Yep they are money making machines, to hell with human or environmental costs, nothing is more important than a profitable quarter. There are fat bonuses at stake!

  16. Richard Rawshark 16

    Ardent Leisure, now called Main Event after shareholders approved the name change at its AGM yesterday, has had a series of missteps in dealing with Tuesday’s fatal accident at the Dreamworld theme park on Australia’s Gold …,

    Oh the compassion.

    • ropata 16.1

      Repulsive, if they had a conscience they would dissolve this toxic enterprise and face up to their own part in this tragedy. Instead they are in damage control PR mode, as if a name change will help their effing stock price.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 16.1.1

        A name change will affect their stock price, and by doing so, continue to drag their market down to its lowest common denominator. Is ethical Carnies an oxymoron?

        At least these homicides happened in Aussie, where there is some chance of the perpetrators finding themselves before the beak.

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  • Crown accounts reflect Govt’s careful economic management
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  • Speech to Wakatū Nelson regional hui on trade
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  • Speech to Primary Industries Summit
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    6 days ago
  • New Zealand ready to host APEC virtually
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    7 days ago
  • Revival of Māori Horticulturists
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    1 week ago
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  • School sustainability projects to help boost regional economies
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  • Farmer-led projects to improve water health in Canterbury and Otago
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  • New primary school and classrooms for 1,200 students in South Island
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  • Minister of Māori Development pays tribute to Rudy Taylor
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  • Prime Minister to attend APEC Leaders’ Summit
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  • Speech to Infrastructure NZ Symposium
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  • Pike River 10 Year Anniversary Commemorative Service
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  • Huge investment in new and upgraded classrooms to boost construction jobs
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  • Keeping Pike River Mine promises 10 years on
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  • More public housing delivered in Auckland
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  • Agreement advanced to purchase up to 5 million COVID-19 vaccines
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  • Jobs for Nature funding will leave a conservation legacy for Waikanae awa
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  • New Dunedin Hospital project progresses to next stage
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  • Jump in apprentice and trainee numbers
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  • ReBuilding Nations Symposium 2020 (Infrastructure NZ Conference opening session)
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  • New Zealand's biosecurity champions honoured
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  • Tourism Industry Aotearoa Conference
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