Adams v Little on Pike River re-entry liability

In Parliament yesterday Amy Adams questioned Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry, about liability for any decision to re-enter the Pike River mine.

There is a lot of credibility and responsibility riding on mine re-entry for Little and Labour.

 

7. Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry: Who will bear potential liability under health and safety legislation for any re-entry of the Pike River drift that he approves, and what is the range of penalties that could be imposed on them in the event of a breach of workplace safety obligations?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Hon Andrew Little, I will indicate to the House that I have been informed by the Minister’s office that this is likely to be a longer than normal answer, and, because of the important nature of it, I’ve allowed that.

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister responsible for Pike River Re-entry): Thank you, Mr Speaker. To the first question: there are potentially many people liable as required under the Health and Safety at Work Act, which was passed by her Government. This includes employees, contractors, and subcontractors. Health and safety after all, as we all know, is a shared responsibility.

To the second question: in so far as the member would be aware that I am unable to give legal advice, the penalties in the legislation range—depending on whether they are an individual or a company—from an up to $50,000 fine for failing to comply with a health and safety duty or up to five years in prison or an up to $3 million fine for reckless conduct exposing someone to the risk of death. These penalties will only be applied where the agency fails to meet its obligations. But I can reassure her that I have every intention of ensuring that the re-entry work is consistent with health and safety obligations.

Hon Amy Adams: What was the recommendation from his Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) officials on the optimal decision-making structure for Pike River re-entry, given those health and safety obligations, among other things?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I received advice from MBIE and also from the State Services Commission, and I followed the State Services Commission advice, which was for an arrangement that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament. That’s what I am here for.

Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject official advice that a decision about safe re-entry will be best achieved by ensuring the decision maker is independent, with the decision maker being the holder of the key duties of care around ensuring health and safety?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: In putting together this project, I was acutely aware that the previous Government had handled the families involved in this matter in a completely shabby and appalling way, and I wanted to ensure that the arrangements we put in place allowed for full accountability to this Parliament, engaged the families fully and properly, allowed for good quality advice at all levels, and complied with our health and safety legislation.

Hon Amy Adams: Why did the Minister reject advice that the best decision would come from an independent decision maker?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I got a range of advice, including from the State Services Commission, which expressed their preferred option about having a structure that allowed for maximum accountability to this Parliament as well as flexibility and responsiveness. The member should read the papers properly.

Hon Amy Adams: On what basis does the Minister think it’s reasonable to expect public servants that report to him to carry the burden of criminal responsibility for decisions that that Minister makes?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member misunderstand the law that her Government put in place called the Health and Safety at Work Act, and she misunderstands the implied obligations in every employment agreement for every employee. Every employee, contractor, subcontractor—anybody involved in a task—has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. No employee under our employment law can be required or instructed to undertake unsafe work, and no employer can issue an instruction that is unlawful and unreasonable—and that won’t happen in this project.

Hon Amy Adams: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library for my office that makes it quite clear that the chief executive of the agency is criminally responsible.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to the tabling of that document? There appears to be none.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

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6 Comments

  1. Gerrit

     /  December 6, 2017

    Read between the lines folks, There will be NO mine reentry.

    “Every employee, contractor, subcontractor—anybody involved in a task—has duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act. No employee under our employment law can be required or instructed to undertake unsafe work, and no employer can issue an instruction that is unlawful and unreasonable—and that won’t happen in this project.”

    Another sham that will leave the families even more gutted. At least the previous government said NO outright. This government says, Yes vote for us and we will get you in the mine led by Winston Peters.

    Now the reality will set in for those in favour of reentry that this government are setting you up for a big NO as well.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  December 6, 2017

      Um … yep. I reckon. Gonna spend a lot of money to say No, then waste a lot of time trying to get away with saying we didn’t break our promise.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  December 6, 2017

        I suspect that it will be a case of we did our best but it’s just too dangerous.

        P(at)rick Gower has a lot to answer for if what you said was true, Gezza, and I am sure that it was-he probably went as far as he could without actually saying it, if you see what I mean, so that if he was challenged he could say that he hadn’t actually said that. No, just implied it in such a way that it sounded as if it had happened and we all believed it. He should be out on his ear.

        Reply

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