Little to make decision on Pike River

Pike River re-entry will ultimately be a political decision, with Pike River Minister Andrew Little having the final say.  After saying there would be definite re-entry during the election campaign it has morphed into a maybe.

NZH: PM Jacinda Ardern: Pike River re-entry the goal but not at any cost

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Pike River Minister Andrew Little set out plans for the new Pike River Recovery Agency, including a target of re-entry by March 2019, after Cabinet signed off on it on Monday.

Little said he personally would make the decision on whether to go ahead with a re-entry into the drift of the mine after the agency conducted risk assessments.

The agency would be set up from January and would work closely with the Pike River families on the process.

Labour committed to a re-entry as part of its election campaign, but has since said that was not an absolute guarantee.

Ardern said her commitment to the families was to do everything within the Government’ power to attempt a re-entry, but safety would be priority.

She said it was possible there was information the Government was not aware of, or expert advice that countered the advice the families had. If that happened, it would work through it with the families.

“There will be risks. Our job is to mitigate them as far as possible and to weigh up whether there is an acceptable level of risk. But as I’ve said, there were risks every day that those miners walked into that mine.

“The risk they took on was an unacceptable level of risk at the hands of the company they worked for. Now it’s incumbent on us to make the right decision to try and re-enter that drift, but we have to do it with all the information.

“Any decision to re-enter will be based on a thorough technical assessment of the risks and advice on how the risks can be mitigated. The families know that we will not endanger any more lives, and that has been one of their most important principles.”

Lowered expectations of body recovery.

Stuff editorial: New rulers but the same old problem at Pike River

A new group of politicians is promising to re-enter the Pike River Mine to retrieve the bodies of the miners. So once again the grieving families of the miners are hoping to find their loved ones.

But in the end the result might prove to be the same: that the mine cannot be safely entered, and the families will again be left high and dry. In which case the grief and the outrage will go on.

Andrew Little, the minister in charge of the re-entry, says it won’t happen if it is too risky. “I am not going to put anybody at undue risk. I am simply not going to,” Little said.

So how is that different from what the last lot of governing politicians said? Former National Prime Minister John Key said he would do everything possible to get the bodies out. Labour politicians promised to do something similar. NZ First leader Winston Peters made the most dramatic pledge: he would go into the mine himself.

Perhaps the main political difference right now is that Little is working alongside the families and involving them in the project. He has the advantage that he is part of a new government that has not yet disillusioned the grieving relatives.

Working more closely with the families of dead miners may help the Government avoid criticism and reduce pressure – for now.

Perhaps that is why the families find it understandable that the new Government’s promises of re-entry contained caveats over safety. But they also think it “unlikely” that the risk assessment would uncover something they didn’t know.

The brute reality, however, is that no government could allow re-entry if it is unsafe. Here, however, it seems likely that the experts will disagree. And in that case the final decision will be made by politicians – Andrew Little and his Cabinet colleagues.

The scope for political trouble here is huge, partly because Peters has already decreed that it is safe to go into the mine. He cannot back down on that without damaging his own credibility and infuriating the families.

But the big decision – and responsibility- is with Little.

Because in the end the decision must be the Government’s. If the re-entry results in more deaths in this terrible place, the Government will be blamed, regardless of the recommendations its experts made.

And here the political issues are tangled. The families are grieving and clearly some of them feel that they can never stop grieving unless the bodies are recovered.

But outside this small group there is no large constituency with a passionate commitment to re-entering the drift. Nearly everyone agrees that more casualties in the mine would be a catastrophe compounding a previous catastrophe.

The families, understandably, are likely to have a different view of the safety risk from most other people. That is another reason why the final decision needs to be made by someone whose emotions are not as fiercely engaged.

Or as politically involved.

There will be family and political pressure for Little to enable re-entry. There are real risks regardless of his decision.

Leave a comment


  1. Trevors_elbow

     /  21st November 2017

    Del Shannon comes to mind…. run, run, runaway…..

    Back tracking so fast on this

  2. Gerrit

     /  21st November 2017

    This PDF is worth reading as it has both the families and the owners viewpoint in regards mine reentry. Note that this is the families 2016 report and supersedes the 2014 reentry proposal.

    Note that the proposal is to enter the drift only, not the mine working proper were one presumes the bodies (or ashes) are. The drift reentry requires a seal places between the end of the drift and the mine proper. One presumes that once the drift has been stabilised ongoing work to reenter the mine workings proper would start.

    Hoping that the link below works if not Google “A method for safe re-entry of Pike River Mine Drift”. You will see the pdf as issued by Parliament.NZ Scoop have one as well but is only the families proposal (7 pages) versus the Government (16 pages) one which includes the comments from the owners.

  3. Zedd

     /  21st November 2017

    Mr Little may not be the leader anymore, but if he ‘mucks this up’; at least not entering ‘the drift’ he may lead them to lose in 2020 ?

    I wonder if there is ‘more info. to hand’ that is making them hesitate ? legal stuff ??

    • Trevors_elbow

       /  21st November 2017

      No its called being the responsible party Zedd. When in opposition you can shout and bluster because its a free hit. When your in government the buck stops with you.

  4. artcroft

     /  21st November 2017

    20+ million to look for ash. What a fool’s errand. What if H & S prevents re-entry, so Little says no. Then a consulting firm produces a report saying for an extra $30 mil these safety issues can be resolved. What then for Labour? Is the cheque blank?

    • Corky

       /  21st November 2017

      ”Is the cheque blank?” Arty!!! Does a slinger count the cost of his bullets and women? Or is he only interested in the outcome? Enough said.

  5. Gerrit

     /  21st November 2017

    Under the new H+S laws the directors of the company that owns the mine are liable if something untoward happens. Now the state can issue a new law to make those directors not culpable. However that only covers them from liability if their own workforce enters the mine. If a subcontractor was employed, the directors of that company would need to be absolved as well.. Not only that they need to have a talk to ACC regarding their exposure to risk and how that effects their levy if something goes wrong. How many businesses will risk the hefty ACC fees increase if their employees are killed or injured?

    Then the question comes down to an individual level. First the mine owners need to find volunteers to enter the mine and they, on an individual basis, will decide the risks and rewards.

    Except for Winston Peters, Andrew Little and Bernie Monk who else will volunteer? How big and how qualified is the queue?

    If the mine is considered a crime scene, how many police and forensic experts will volunteer? For without the legal representation inside the mine, no criminal charges can be laid.

    Chances on full (as in body recovery) mine reentry in March 2019. Slim to none.

    Why, leaving aside the risk of another gas explosion, a geologist will need to establish how safe the roof and sides are from imminent collapse. So yes an entry by a volunteer geologist is on the cards and a full reentry will depend upon his/hers report.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  21st November 2017

      I cannot understand this, I really can’t.

      There won’t BE any bodies to bury. Nobody can pretend that there will be.

      If there is anything like a body, it will be a skeleton by now.

  6. PDB

     /  21st November 2017

    Why wait & waste $20 million bucks when expert miner Winston Peters has already said the mine is safe to enter?

    Stuff (May): “”I’m prepared to go in myself – not as a boast as some in the media say, but as an indication of my confidence safe re-entry is possible,” he told The Nation on Saturday.
    “I’ve worked 11 miles underground in a mine. I know a bit about the dangers…”

    Herald (Winston Peters speaking in January): “You already have a thoroughly professional report from world-leading experts in this field. How many more reports do the authorities need before they can say ‘Go in’? What more proof could they possibly want?”

    Indeed Winston….yet another flip-flop from the new govt.


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