Promises to Pike families must be kept
Six years on from the Pike River disaster, the memory of that day still burns strong, and the families still wait for the Government to make good on its promises. They are still waiting for justice.
Mining communities are special. The work creates a tight bond – your life depends on the person next to you. That spirit of solidarity flows through the whole community. When I was head of the EPMU, the miners were always some of our staunchest members. They stand beside each other no matter what. When tragedy struck, it hit everyone hard.
The grief of the families, friends, and workmates, and the way the whole community rallied around them is still vivid. In that Kiwi way, we all did what we could, no matter how little it may have been. We all understood we needed to help those left behind, get the bodies out, and find out what went wrong so that it would never happen again.
John Key stood in front of those families and said “we’re committed to getting the boys out, and nothing’s going to change that. So, when people try and tell you we’re not… they’re playing with your emotions.” That was during an election campaign, though. The families are still waiting.
Now, Mr Key denies ever making that promise. Now, the government wants to seal the mine forever. Just this week, Mr Key sent Nick Smith to threaten the Pike families with arrest if they try to stop Solid Energy entombing their loved ones.
The Government claims it’s not safe to enter the drift and try to get any bodies in there out. That’s not true. Experts, both local and international, say the mine is now stable. We can get those men out, and secure evidence regarding the cause of the explosion. It can be done.
The National Government just wants to wash its hands of the whole thing, and move on. They don’t seem to care no-one has ever faced court for those 29 deaths, or that the families have never got the bodies back to bury.
That’s not the way Kiwis do things. We do right by people. We ensure that, when there is wrongdoing, there is justice. We keep our promises.
I’m standing with the Pike families in opposing the mine being sealed. It’s time a proper effort is made to bring their men home. They’ve waited long enough.
Pike River families blindsided by ‘acceptance’ of plan to end mine re-entry
Almost half of the families of those killed in the Pike River mine disaster are disputing a statement that they have “accepted” a Government decision to wind down re-entry efforts.
The Pike River Family Reference Group (FRG), which represents the families of 27 of the 29 killed and two survivors of the mine disaster met Pike River Recovery Agency leaders and minister responsible Andrew Little on Monday. Afterwards, the group released a statement that said they “accept, with heartbreak” the Government’s decision not to expand the drift recovery project.
Little said last week the Government would not consider doing a risk assessment and cost analysis of going past a roof fall blocking the mine workings.
Many family members who belong to the group say they were not consulted and did not approve the statement.
Pike River mother Carol Rose said 14 families supported calls by Pike River fathers Bernie Monk and Dean Dunbar for the Government to recover beyond the roof fall, which mining and ventilation experts had told them it was possible to do safely. She said she had received emails from more family members on Tuesday aghast at the FRG statement.
“I have written to Andrew Little and asked him to meet with all 29 families to give his presentation and then we will send out the information to everybody in written form and ask for a vote,” Rose said.
“That’s how we’ve always done it. We stood united against John Key’s Government, but now this Government has split the families by appointing the Family Reference Group. Divide and conquer.”
Cloe Nieper, widow of Kane Nieper who was killed in the mine, said she was at the meeting but was not asked if she accepted the Government’s position. She said there was no vote, and she was “blindsided” by the statement released by the Family Reference Group after the meeting.
Gordon Dixon, brother of Allan Dixon, said the families had been given no warning that such an important issue would be decided at the meeting. He supported calls for the Government to keep going.
Dixon could not attend the meeting, which he thought was just a briefing from the agency and Little. He said a family member who did attend via Zoom did not have a chance to discuss it with the wider family.
“We have been sold out by the Government and by the [families group]. I want to request the minutes for the meeting. As a family we talk about these things, but we didn’t have the chance.”
FRG chairwoman Anna Osborne said the statement was written at the meeting with input from family members.
She said the meeting was organised by the FRG so only the 27 families it represented were invited. Eleven families attended the meeting, she said.
She personally accepted that going any further into the mine would be too expensive, challenging and time-consuming.
Bernie Monk, from one of the four families not represented by the group, said Little had broken promises he made to the families.
Little wrote before the 2017 general election, when National was still in power, that “promises to Pike families must be kept”, the mine was stable and it was possible to get the men out.
In a Cabinet paper when the agency was set up after the 2017 election, Little said he would report back to Cabinet on whether any further feasibility work on re-entering the mine would be needed once the drift recovery was well-advanced.
However, he ruled out doing that assessment or report to Cabinet in March 2020 due to the cost when the agency was only 315 metres up the 2.3-kilometre drift.
Monk said he was “gutted”.
“They used us as an election promise to get into Government. Andrew Little stood on the steps of Parliament and supported us and now this is yet another broken promise to the families and the country.”
Little said he had not broken any promise and had told the families during the drift re-entry planning stage that while the Government was committed to recovering the drift, there was “no blank cheque for the project”.
“There never was a commitment to re-enter the mine workings. There was only ever a commitment to recover the drift.
“A commitment to reassess the feasibility of re-entering the mine was satisfied and concluded that it was not feasible to do so.”
Every time I read another excitable media article about New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern, I am reminded of an old quip: ‘Viewed from a distance, everything is beautiful.’ That was Publius Cornelius Tacitus (AD 56-120). Were this Roman intellectual and historian alive today, he would make a great columnist. His tactic was to spin political and historical analogies so they could influence public affairs back home.
Tacitus’s Germania, for example, was about framing the Germanic tribes as a noble culture so that his Roman compatriots would recognise their own society as corrupt and decadent in contrast. The only problem was that Tacitus had never crossed the Rhine. That did not matter much: most Romans had not travelled far north either.
That is happening again, except this time New Zealanders are the noble savages being lovingly invented by global columnists. Hardly any of these writers actually live in New Zealand or understand it. Their op-eds reveal more about them than the country they purport to write about. In normal circumstances, this would not be a problem. But over the past few years, Jacinda Ardern has risen to international stardom. Her rise was based on remote reporting by a progressive world media thirsting for a noble alternative to strongmen leaders.
Anyone wishing for an anti-Trump, an anti-Johnson or an anti-Bolsonaro could not dream up a more suitable figure than Ardern. If she did not exist, she would have to be invented. She ticks all the boxes. As a young woman who became prime minister at the age of 37, she is one of the world’s first millennial heads of government. She is only the second world leader to give birth in office (the first was Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan).
Ardern’s political tenure is soaked in progressive holy water. The list of her adopted causes is long. She cited child poverty as her reason for entering politics. When she first ran for prime minister in 2017, she declared climate change her ‘generation’s nuclear free moment’. In early 2019, she promised in the Financial Times to champion a new ‘economics of kindness’. This was demonstrated shortly afterwards in the world’s first ‘well-being budget’.
Ardern has become the media’s poster child of a modern, centre-left politician, not least thanks to her expertise in communicating to every audience. Whether it is a Facebook Live broadcast from her home in her pyjamas or a traditional press conference, Ardern oozes a highly personalized brand of warmth, kindness and empathy.
This PR dexterity helped her steer through two major first-term crises. She found the right words to heal a shocked nation after a terrorist attack on the Christchurch Muslim community in March 2019. Last year, her near-daily TV appearances guided Kiwis through the first months of the coronavirus crisis.
For people watching from afar and sick of dealing with mortal, flawed and ineffective leaders, Ardern’s superheroine star shines bright. As the psychologist Jonathan Haidt revealed in The Righteous Mind, we wish for things to be true, and no amount of counter-evidence will change our minds. Ardern is lucky that humans have this mental bug because on practically every single metric her administration has failed.
She wanted to solve New Zealand’s housing crisis by building 100,000 homes over a decade. This unworkable state-run program was abandoned after two years, and house prices have skyrocketed faster than before. A promised light-rail connection from Auckland’s central business district to the airport met the same fate: the project was scrapped before it even started. Child poverty also rose under Ardern’s leadership, as did carbon emissions. The so-called ‘wellbeing budget’ earmarked funds to fix mental health — but has still not found any projects on which to spend the money.
Even in the two major crises, actual policy implementation differed immensely from the PR-shaped perception. A gun buyback scheme after the Christchurch attack was a costly fiasco. And the country’s success against Covid-19 was more a result of geography than policy. The government failed to manage even basic quarantine facilities.
In the 2020 election campaign, Ardern should have struggled to explain why her grand promises had so utterly failed. Except no one demanded any accountability, and Ardern cruised to an absolute majority based on her saintly image. Ordinary Kiwis, unused to being the global centre of attention, also desperately want this internationalist narrative to be true.
The gap between people’s impression of Ardern and her actual performance as a leader has widened to a gulf. So long as enough modern Tacituses write gushing Ardern portraits, her superstar status will not change.