'We don't need heroes' - mine expert on Pike River re-entry

  • 16/02/2017

The families of the Pike River victims have come to Parliament to present their case for re-entering the mine where 29 men were killed in 2010.

They'll be in front of the commerce select committee on Thursday, armed with a report from experts who believe it's safe to re-enter the mine's drift, the tunnel that leads into it.

State-owned Solid Energy, which owns the mine, considers it isn't safe to re-enter and had intended putting a final seal in place. Prime Minister Bill English, after meeting the family representatives, ordered a halt to the work on Wednesday .

He has ruled out sending people into the drift, but wants Solid Energy to investigate using robot equipment to look inside it.

"The other political parties have given the impression somehow they can get around the law and force people to go into a dangerous mine. We don't agree with that," Mr English told The AM Show on Thursday.

"We're not supporting a manned entry. We're not going to instruct Solid Energy to do that."

The families believe there may be evidence in the drift which could answer some of the questions around what caused the methane explosions that killed their loved ones. They also hope it may be possible to retrieve remains.

Their spokesman, Bernie Monk, will lead the delegation at the select committee hearing. With him will be Tony Forster, a former WorkSafe chief mines inspector who supports their cause.

He told The AM Show on Thursday it was possible to enter the drift without the need for special equipment or putting people's lives at risk - and has been for a while now.

"We don't want loss of life, so we've got to make sure this thing safe and has all the technology and the right people about it. That situation is probably where we were three years ago, but people weren't convinced then."

Mr Forster and Mr Monk will give MPs on the committee a report by mining engineers Robert Stevenson and David Creedy, which outlines a case for safe re-entry.

"Is it simple and straightforward? No, it's not," said Mr Forster. "I need to make two things clear - this is a re-entry of the drift, not the mine; and this is a fresh air process. This does not require breathing apparatus, we don't need heroes taking risks with their lives. That's not what is proposed here."

Mr English says if something goes wrong, it'll be the Solid Energy board that will be held criminally responsible, so they are within their rights to say no.

"As long as I'm Prime Minister we're not going to create an exception for Pike River, one of the most dangerous workplaces in New Zealand. Just look at what Kiwis are doing in workplaces right now to manage risks that are much less than the 600 difficult risks at Pike River. You'd be letting everyone down if you create an exemption here."

That law was put in place following the Pike River disaster.

"We would have to pass specific legislation, and if it all goes wrong, who's going to be responsible?" said Mr English. "The families feel no one was held responsible for the last one."

The families have for months been picketing the West Coast mine in a bid to stop the sealing work that Mr English has halted.

Mr Monk says the pickets will leave now that there's been "a positive step" from the Government.

NZN / Newshub.