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Heather Roy – head down the mine shaft?

5 November 2012 15 comments

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Both TVNZ’s “Q+A” and TV3’s “The Nation” today (4 November) carried interviews with Bernie Monk, regarding  the upcoming royal commission of inquiry report, due for release at 3.45pm this coming  Monday (5 November).

See: Pike River families to get first look at report

The Q+A interview was especially interesting, as the programme followed up with  panellists from the Left, Right, and a Political Scientist. In this case, the panellists were ex-ACT MP, Heather Roy; political pundit, Jon Johansson;  and ex-Labour Party President, Mike Williams.

The issue quickly shifted to the de-regulation of the mining industry, and the gutting of the Mines Inspectorate. All of which happened under the neo-liberal “reforms” of the Bolger-led government in the early 1990s.

As the Dept of Labour website stated (in a belated attempt to justify de-regulation, but which actually turned into a damning indictment of National in the early 1990s) regarding the backdrop to de-regulation,

The HSE Act 1992 and the Department’s role.

45. In broad terms, the HSE Act replaced heavily prescriptive standards (telling duty holders precisely what measures to take in a particular situation) with a performance-based approach, primarily by imposing general duties (sometimes referred to as goal setting regulation) such as to take ‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety, leaving it to the discretion of the duty holder how they achieve that standard. This approach was coupled with greater use of performance standards that specify the outcome of the health and safety improvement or the desired level of performance but leave the concrete measures to achieve this end open for the duty holder to adapt to varying local circumstances. There was also a focus on systemsbased standards. These identify a particular process, or series of steps, to be followed in the pursuit of safety, and may include the use of formal health and safety management systems.

46. New Zealand embraced the Robens philosophy of self-regulation somewhat belatedly, but with particular enthusiasm and in the context of a political environment that was strongly supportive of deregulation. Indeed, in various forms, deregulation (and reducing the regulatory burden on industry more broadly) was strongly endorsed by the Labour Government that came into power in 1984 and by the National Government that succeeded it in 1990. The HSE Act was a product of this deregulatory environment and in its initial version was stripped of some of the key measures recommended by Robens, not least tripartism, worker participation and an independent executive. It was regarded, so we were told, as a ‘necessary evil’ at a time when the predominant public policy goal was to enhance business competitiveness…

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50. Put differently, whereas under the previous legislation, inspectors had been expected to go into workplaces and direct duty holders as to what safety measures they should introduce (the expectation being that the inspector rather than the employer would take the initiative) under the HSE Act employers bear primary responsibility for health and safety while providing information and support, particularly when it comes to establishing and developing health and safety systems and processes and takes enforcement action where the employer fails to meet the practicability standard.”

See: Review of the Department of Labour’s interactions with Pike River Coal Limited

Alt. link: https://web.archive.org/web/20111122210429/http://www.dol.govt.nz/news/media/pikeriver/Pike-River-Mine-review/regulatory-role.asp

The up-shot of  the above report is that instead of actively policing mines and their safety standards, it was all left to individual companies to address. Instead of being “prescriptive” as the DoL laments, individual companies were to adopt a “a performance-based approach” and to “to take ‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety, leaving it to the discretion of the duty holder how they achieve that standard“.

Well, we know how that turned out.

29 men paid dearly for the liberalisation of safety regulations, in one of the most dangerous fields of  work on this planet.

The current state of our mines inspectorate is now so bad that even state-owned coal-mining company, Solid Energy publicly expressed it’s dis-satisfaction and called for the process to be handed over to Queensland for safety oversight,

Solid Energy has called for New Zealand’s mines’ inspectorate to be run out of Queensland, saying the lack of resource at the Department of Labour was partly to blame for the Pike River tragedy.

The state-owned power company is hoping to be the new owner of Pike River Coal, and said the best option to ensure the mine’s safety is to align New Zealand’s framework with that of Queensland.

“We are suggesting Queensland because we believe it is at the forefront of safety in Australia,” said chief executive Dr Don Elder.

“The industry needs research capability to look at the best advances overseas and evaluate how those might be applied locally.”

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However, Elder said because New Zealand mining is a small industry, it would be too expensive to provide all of those services, so the most sustainable option is to contract inspectorate and support services to Australia.”

See: Solid Energy wants Australia to run mines inspectorate

So what was ex-ACT MP, Heather Roy’s, response in the discussion, that followed the interview with Bernie Monk, who lost in son in the Pike River Mine disaster?

Her response, to put it mildly, was eye-opening and jaw-dropping. In what should have been a crystal-clear message to worshippers of  Neo Liberalism, that de-regulation does not always work as intended, she managed to totally ignore the lessons of the Pike River tragedy and deflected the conversation elsewhere,

HEATHER ROY:  Well, in part, but I think Bernie was right when he said the New Zealand public haven’t forgotten about Pike River mine. Things like the Royal Commission are gonna highlight that. The real thing, the tragedy for the families is always going to be ongoing for them. The thing is what lessons can we learn from this, and Mike was outlining some of the things that he thinks should be done. This might be a bit of a watershed for OSH, and that would probably be a good thing in the mining sector. Another thing that needs to be examined is New Zealand’s environmental policies. Should this have been an open cast mine? Should it have been closed? All of those things need to be discussed, not just for Pike River mine, but across the board.

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HEATHER ROY:  I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though. What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point– “

Source: TVNZ Q+A The panel

I’ve usually found Heather Roy to be the most rational of the right-wing nutjobs that pass for ACT MPs and supporters. She voices views – even if one disagreed with them – with a measure of coherency and logic that elicited a thoughtful response, rather than a gritting of teeth.

On this occassion, I gritted my teeth.

Right wingers make a fetish of demanding a high degree of personal responsibility from us, the Great Unwashed Masses.

See: ACT – Principles

But right wing political parties rarely (actually, never) take responsibility for their own actions.

It is fairly clear to everyone by now that the de-regulation of the mines inspectorates in the early ’90s was a grave mistake. 29 graves, to be precise.

So for Heather Roy to try to shift the blame onto OSH, when legislative “reforms” specifically stated that mines safety had devolved to individual companies, and was no longer the “prescriptive”  responsibility of the State is more than a little disingenous – it’s downright dishonest and insulting to all New Zealanders.

How can Roy say with a straight face, “I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though. What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point” – is beyond comprehension.

One can only assume she is relying on collective brainfade as to what National did in the early 1990s, and public lack of knowledge on this issue,  to try to get away with such bullshit.

How else does one explain her incredible statements,

I think it’s a red hearing to blame deregulation for everything, though.” – What else would one blame, when we went from seven mines inspectors in 1992 to 1, currently? When prescriptive safety regulations were replaced with companies taking voluntary “‘all practicable steps’ to ensure health and safety“?

What is actually important is the accountability that follows on from that. ” – It’s a bit too late for accountability after people have been killed in a disaster that need never have happened had stringent safety regulations not been removed.

Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing. ” – It is a bad thing when de-regulation results in injury or death, that was wholly preventable.

Perhaps Ms Roy would approve of de-regulating road safety rules? Would she endorse removing the speed limit, for example?

It’s what checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists beyond that point” – At this point I had ground my teeth to nothing.  This comment contradicted her previous statement, “Deregulation in itself is not a bad thing“.

How can we ensure that “checks and balances are put in place so that accountability exists ” – when no regulation exists requiring “checks and balances“?!?!

Nothing Roy has said made any sense, and her assertions defy common sense understanding.

For an educated, articulate woman, she has allowed her natural intelligence to be clouded by the braindead dogma of neo-liberalism, which demands de-regulation and “small government” at any cost.

But there is always a cost.

Just ask 29 families on the West Coast.

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Other blogs

Tumeke: The myth of over-regulation and the delusion of self-regulation

The Standard: Two faced John Key on Pike River

Additional

Q+A: Transcript of Bernie Monk interview

Ministry of Labour: A Guide to the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992

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A hole they all dug?

22 July 2011 1 comment

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‘Obvious’ lack of safety measures

Friday Jul 22, 2011. While Pike River Coal chief executive Peter Whittall doesn’t think his company had been in tarnished by the Royal Commission of Inquiry, the spokesman for the victims’ families said it was obvious there was a lack of safety measures for even small emergencies in the mine.

Bernie Monk said the first phase of the inquiry – which has wrapped up today after two weeks – had got a lot more information out into the public arena than the families had expected. “I think we are going to get to the truth. There’s no two ways about that,” he said outside court.

Tears had often been shed by family members attending the inquiry. “We’ve been dragged through this for going on nine months now and it opens up wounds every time we come to do something like this. “But we will be tough, we are supporting each other and we’ll get there.”

Responding to inquiry evidence about possible escape routes from the mine, Mr Monk said it was obvious there was a lack of safety measures for even small emergencies in the mine.

Continued.
To be fair, it’s difficult to comment as the Commission is yet to hear all witnesses and consider all evidence. Going purely by an incomplete perception alone, I offer these observations;

  • The changes to legislation in the early 1990s by a reform-obsessed National Government  seems to have created the proverbial ticking time bomb. As with the leaky/rotting homes syndrome, the de-regulation of mining and safety has resulted in inevitable disaster.
  • The Pike River Mine company seems to have operated using short cuts, taking advantage of the de-regulation of the 1990s. And like other hostile environments such as the sea and outer space, mining is an unforgiving activity where  eventually good luck will run out.
  • Whilst National may have facilitated the environment where all the elements came together for an eventual catastrophe – it shouldn’t be forgotten that Labour had nine years to address this problem and re-instate mines inspectors. They obviously did not.
  • And lastly, where was the miners’ union? Why did the remaining safety inspector(s) not blow the whistle? (I’m not even going to ask about the media, which seems to have fallen asleep-at-the-wheel, only to awaken when there are suitable crime stories to report, or stranded penguins that go off the Cuteness Scale…)  And Bernie Monk stated that the mine was “obviously unsafe”.

Yet, no one spoke up.

I have this nagging feeling that society (via a Facebook village mob, again?) and a headline-hungry media will look toward a scapegoat.  The truth, though, is that complicity may spread far and wide on this matter.

 

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