Cunliffe on Pike River compensation

David Cunliffe raised hopes and eyebrows with his offer to pay compensation to Pike River survivors and families, some of whom applauded him but others were not impressed with him politicising a day of remembrance and grieving.

3 News – Political mileage in Pike River promise:

While the Pike River families grieved today, there was a political promise from Labour leader David Cunliffe.

Mr Cunliffe said he would make sure they received compensation if his party won the general election next year.

National said it was a legal issue, and doesn’t want to set a precedent for compensation payouts in other cases.

But Mr Cunliffe said once a Labour Government paid up, it would put the pressure on NZ Oil and Gas to get it back, despite 99 percent of shareholders voting against paying the compensation.

Duncan Garner interviewed Cunliffe on RadioLive.

Garner: David Cunliffe is the Labour leader who has today promised to pay the 3.4 million dollars of compensation that NZ Oil and Gas refused to do and of course the Government has turned down the families as well. Is this a cynical election bribe from David Cunliffe on this very important day for the families, is it a hijacking of this very important day, is it poor taste? David Cunliffe, why of all days did you choose to announce this today?

Cunliffe: Because it’s the right thing to do, because we’ve been in dialogue with the families and their representatives of Pike River miners and because they are in urgent need of assistance, and we can’t believe frankly that the Government is dodging what we believe is a clear moral and ethical duty to see them right.

Garner: Is it the Government’s job to be paying this compensation, or is it the job of the investor companies that were involved in Pike River Coal?

Cunliffe: It’s both. It’s both because the Commission found the Department of Labour was co-culpable, it was guilty of not closing the mine down when it was clearly in breach of the most basic safety standards. So the regulator failed in it’s duty of care. So the Government is partly responsible.

Secondly, three crown entities, ACC, the NZ Superannuation Fund and Solid Energy all either are currently own the mine or own shares in NZ Oil and Gas which is the parent of Pike River Coal, and they voted against Oil and Gas paying the compensation that the families were owed, that the court ordered.

The Commission ordered Pike River Coal to pay compensation, they didn’t ask the Government or Crown entities to pay.

Cunliffe: Whether you go the corporate route or whether you go the Government route the Government has a role to play, and of course having underwritten the 3.4 million, we will recover it, from the corporates who received tens of millions of dollars of insurance money, and gave none of it to the families.

Garner: So you’ll take them to court, you’ll take them to court to track down the money?

Cunliffe: Honestly Duncan I don’t think, I don’t think if the Prime Minister calls and says we’d really like you to think about this, I don’t think it’s going to end up in a court case, cause if they look in the Prime Minister’s eyes and see that he’s serious, it wouldn’t be smart for them to go down that route.

Garner: So you would ring them up and threaten them as Prime Minister?

Cunliffe: …we’re talking about a trivial amounts of money, trivial amounts of money in the scheme of things and I would say to them “Hey fellas, there’s two ways we can do this, the easy way or the hard way. Which would you prefer?”

Garner: So you would ring up as Prime Minister of the day, and say if you don’t it we’ll take you to court? That’s a threat, that’s a blackmail isn’t it?

Cunliffe: No it’s not. It’s standing up for the rights of hardworking New Zealand families who’ve sadly and tragically lost their breadwinners, and I am frankly revolted by the fact the corporate New Zealand has, ah, walked away from these families.

Now to be fair NZ Oil & Gas have made contributions in other ways, they have underwritten closing part of the mine, and ACC has made some small payouts to families, I’m trying to be fair about that, but there is a huge gap and it’s just not appropriate.

So look, we will pay the Government’s share…

Garner: Is it appropriate for the Prime Minister, is it appropriate for the Prime Minister of the day, and you’ve been very critical of the current Prime Minister for the way he dealed with Sky City behind closed doors, is it appropriate for the Prime Minister of the day, let’s say it’s you, to make phone calls to these corporates and say “If you don’t pay up we’ll see you in court”. Because that’s what you’re saying.

Cunliffe: I’m not necessarily saying “see you in court”, but I’m happy to be perfectly open about it, there’s nothing behind closed doors. And besides which, the big difference between John Key and me, is I’m going in to bat for the little guy, he goes to bat for the big end of town, his deals are sweet deals for the big corporates.

My deals are to get fair compensation for the fatherless children of Pike River. I think the public can tell the difference.

Garner: Corporate manslaughter, would you bring that on to the statute, would you bring that onto the books to hold some of these people to account and send them to jail if found guilty of gross negligence, would you do it or not?

Cunliffe: Yes we would. Andrew Little has a Member’s Bill which is looking at bringing in corporate manslaughter, I’m not the legal beagle who knows all the details on this…

He’s also not the legal beagle that knows the details about having the Prime Minister involved in trying to get compensation paid with a threat of court action.

…but it is our intention to make sure that the most egregious cases of corporate responsibility and resulting in death are brought into the legal net in some way shape or form.

Garner: Because it’s interesting isn’t it, when you say if you look at the engineer who faked the certificate around the CCT building, 115 people died in that building, he’s not ikn jail, should that person be in jail?

Cunliffe: Well I hate to comment on individual cases when I don’t know all the facts of the case, I’m not a judge…

But he would intervene on Pike River compensation to try and avoid the court dealing with it on Pike River.

…but if somebody is guilty of extreme negligence and it results in death, particularly the death of a large number of people as in that case, if there is clear culpability, I cannot see why there should not be a criminal sanction of that nature.

If you get drunk and rive your car over the wrong side of the line and you kill someone by running into them you are guilty of a criminal offence. If you are asleep at the wheel driving a building that falls on a whole lot of people and kills them and you are grossly negligent and you’ve contributed markedly to their death, I think a criminal sanction should be in scope.

So yeah, perhaps, if. It is potentially a very difficult thing to draw legal lines on.

Garner: David, I appreciate your time, David Cunliffe, Labour Leader. Wow, he makes quite a difference doesn’t he to the former leader David Shearer. He is writing out some big cheques that I hope for the sake of the families his body can cash.

Big promises, promises, promises, every week come from David Cunliffe. You do have a real choice though after the next election, you have the choice of a government, this current government who says no to compensation to the Pike River families.

And David Cunliffe who has today politicised, I think we can fairly say politicised, the three year commemoration, the anniversary of the deaths with an announcement today that Labour will pay 3.4 million dollars in compensation.

And the Prime Minister of the day, that being David Cunliffe, would ring up the companies and say “Pay up”. He’d threaten them as Prime Minister.

This may raise some legal and political eyebrows, but it’s easy to see why it would be applauded by some of the potential recipients.

And many on the left will also applaud, those who think that if a cause sounds worthy enough then any means is justified.

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