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.”