Inside Winston Peters' private meeting with Pike River families

I opened the door to New Zealand First's caucus room and came across something quite unexpected: Winston Peters sitting alone at the head of a big long table.

He was waiting for four Pike River family members, who'd just unveiled their latest re-entry plan. Newshub had been invited along to observe.

Another door opens, and Bernie Monk, Anna Osborne, Sonja Rockhouse, and Dean Dunbar file in and take their seats.

"By the evidence I've seen, something seriously untoward is going on," Mr Peters opens with.

"That giant block of concrete they want to put in is going in for a reason, and it ain't to do with present safety," he says, then invites his guests to make their case.

Dean Dunbar lost his 17-year-old son Joseph at Pike River, on what was his first and only day on the job. Dean isn't one for small talk, and gets straight to the point.

"What sort of commitment can you give, Winston?," he asks.

"I give you the commitment that I'll back you to the hilt on this matter. And if safety is what their concern is, I'm so confident of the reports I've seen and of the circumstances that I'm volunteering to be part of the first party that goes back in," replies Mr Peters.

Dean quickly fires a question back: "And that includes if you join up with the National Party at the election next year?"

Mr Peters is visibly taken aback, and retorts with political talk. "I'm here to fix your problem, not negotiate the next election with a failed government. Make no bones about it," says Mr Peters.

That's still not enough for Dean: "So, regardless?"

Finally, Mr Peters makes a promise. "You've got my word on it. When have I gone back on my word?

Dean cheekily replies: "I've only just met you".

Mr Monk defuses the situation with a great laugh, before making his case.

Mr Peters meeting with Pike River family members Dean Dunbar, Anna Osbourne, Sonja Rockhouse, and Bernie Monk (Newshub)
Mr Peters meeting with Pike River family members Dean Dunbar, Anna Osbourne, Sonja Rockhouse, and Bernie Monk (Newshub)

"The most frustrating part out of all of this is that the families haven't been listened to. They just think we're people from the Coast and we don't know what we're talking about.

"We flew these experts out from the UK to have a look at this plan. It's not as if we're fly-by-nighters," he says with his usual gusto.

Mr Peters agrees. He says he's read the reports, and has personal experience working underground. He was part of the tunnelling teams in Australia during the construction of the Snowy Mountain power scheme.

"I've read that evidence that you've supplied us with, and they are very compelling experts with no conflict of interest. That cannot be said for the other side, which has massive conflicts of interest of culpability and responsibility," he says.

Ms Osborne is at the meeting in a wheelchair. She has Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a painful cancer, and one of her legs is in a cast. It hasn't affected her passion and dedication. She wants to clarify the myth that lives would be lost in a re-entry.

"People have to realise that we don't want anyone twisting an ankle, let alone losing a life, because we know what that feels like to have your loved one not return home," she says.

"Our men went to work to earn a bloody living for their families and didn't return home and how disgraceful is it that we have to fight to bring our loved ones home?"

Next to her, Ms Rockhouse continues: "Can you imagine how it would look when they go up the drift and they find bodies, and/or evidence? It's not going to be a very good look is it?" she asks Mr Peters.

"We've had to live with this all these years and no one's ever tried."

There were lighter moments too, with Mr Peters congratulating the families on their roadblock of the access road to the mine, which they discovered runs across private farmland.

"In a rather tough few years, you've had one absolute stroke of luck!"

The meeting finishes with Mr Peters shouting his guests lunch at Parliament's cafe.

"I thought at least these mean sods would have fed you, that's the least they can do," he says.

Newshub.

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