|Andrew Little: "Nothing unusual about Pike River."|
Andrew Little, who once defended the management of Pike River Coal and safety standards at the mine, is now Minister for Pike River Re-Entry.
THAT JACINDA ARDERN should choose Andrew Little to be Minister for Pike River Re-Entry is incongruous at best, given his dubious track record on the issue.
Although minimal attention is likely to drawn by both the corporate media and Labour-supporting websites to Little's role in the Pike River disaster, his benevolent attitude towards the management of the mine makes him a poor choice to oversee the supposed re-entry of the mine. He is fatally compromised - but he's not the only one.
It was Andrew Little who, after the first explosion, claimed to the NZ Herald (November 22 2010) that there was "nothing unusual about Pike River or this mine that we’ve been particularly concerned about".
It was a view he repeated to RNZ National's Morning Report, also on November 22:
"Every mine on the West Coast takes great care when it goes into production and I don't think Pike River is any different from that. They've had a good health and safety committee that's been very active. So there's nothing before now that's alerted us to any greater risk of this sort of incident happening than at any other time."
As national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU - now E tu) Little jumped to the defence of Pike River Coal management, even though the EPMU represented approximately half of the 140 strong workforce at Pike River.
But Little's view that everything was fine at Pike River was contradicted by miner Brent Forrester. He told TVNZ’s Sunday (December 5 2010) that he once helped organise a walkout of some ten miners to protest the lack of basic emergency equipment, including stretchers and an emergency transport vehicle. He also said they had received no support from the EPMU.
Little's apparent lack of concern about what was happening at Pike River and his willingness to believe what management told him, was also highlighted by Gerry Morris of Greymouth, a former writer for Coal magazine. He told the NZ Herald that he had heard regularly from contractors at the mine that "over the last two or three years that this mine is unsafe, there’s far too much gas, there’s going to be a disaster here one day".
Perhaps Little's rush to the defence of PRC management was provoked by the fact that the
Fourth Labour government,(1999-2008) which was backed by the Greens, continued to dismantle the Labour Department’s specialist mines inspectorate and allowed mine owners to self-regulate. Which meant that the mining companies, in the pursuit of profit, began to cut corners.
Indeed in 2012 West Coast Labour MP Damien O'Connor conceded that sometimes he experienced "guilt" for not taking action during the 1999–2008 Labour government to improve conditions in the mines.
But in 2010, shortly after the first explosion at Pike River, O'Connor suggested that no one was responsible for the accident and that the disaster was "just one of these things that the West Coast unfortunately has had to get used to over the years".
The general view is that Pike River was a disaster waiting to happen. But the conditions for the disaster were created by both National and Labour governments whose deregulatory zeal severely undermined health and safety measures that had been put in place at the mine. And twenty nine men would lose their lives. And no one has been held responsible for the disaster.
And now Andrew Little is not only a minister in the new Labour-New Zealand First coalition government, he's the minister charged with organising a plan to re-enter a mine he once used to defend as being "safe".