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Heather Roy – head down the mine shaft?

5 November 2012 14 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

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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Liberalising WoF rules – where have we heard this before?

20 September 2012 2 comments

The latest liberalisation policy from National; changing the frequency of Warrants of Fitness for new and older vehicles,

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Listen to Simon Bridges on Checkpoint

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Listen to more on Nine to Noon

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I have an uneasy feeling about National’s proposals…

On one hand, it would be easier and cheaper to have my car checked for a WoF once every six months.  Who could say ‘no’ to saving $40 or $60 a year?

On the other hand, a lot can go wrong with a car in one year.  As mechanic, Don Sweet, told Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme,

When you talk about the repairs, I’ve found steering joints falling off, brakes worn right out, brake hoses cracked to bursting, rusted brake pipes, tyres with steel cords coming out.”

So why my apprehension? What is it about National’s liberalisation of  this regulation that causes my ‘spidey-sense‘ to tingle, with on-coming danger?

Perhaps because we’ve been down this road before – with disturbing and tragic consequences,

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Full Story

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Source: Hansards – Weathertight Homes Resolution Services (Financial Assistance Package) Amendment Bill — Third Reading

Despite Minister Williamson attempting to duck responsibility, the de-regulation of the Building Industry, as well as the Mining Inspectorate, can be sheeted home fairly-and-squarely upon National’s neo-liberal shoulders.

As part of an ongoing agenda of transforming New Zealand society and economy into a de-regulated free-market, with minimal state over-sight, both Rogernomics Labour and National pursued liberalisation to the exclusion of common sense, safety, and consequences.

Those politicians responsible for the mess they created; the billions of dollars in damage; and lives lost, continue to abrogate all responsibility for the last two decades. Yet, many of those same politicians are still in office today.

The liberalisation of Warrants of Fitness for vehicles sounds like a good idea.

But so did de-regulation of the Building Industry and Mining Inspectorate, at the time.

One would like to think we have learnt our lessons over time, but it appears not. Our propensity for collective amnesia is as much a part of our nature as it ever was.

Liberalisation  of vehicle safety standards: this will not end well.

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Previous related blogpost

A lethal lesson in de-regulation

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3 things we will never see in our lifetime…

18 August 2011 3 comments

There are some things that are simply impossible, according to the laws of physics…

(Oh, ok, I was wrong about #1. It is possible for aliens to travel to Earth and land in front of the White House… )

A lethal lesson in de-regulation…

18 August 2011 1 comment

More here.

De-regulation and an open, unfettered economy was the big fashion in the late 1980s (“Rogernomics”) and 1990s (“Ruthenasia”). It was argued by neo-liberals; the wealthy; and by segments of wannabee-rich middle class, that de-regulation was the new paradigm that would create an efficient; highly productive; wealthy society.

We would become the “Ireland” of the South Pacific – and Ireland at the time was doing extremely well, economically.

So the National government of the day, led by Prime Minister Jim Bolger, and with Ruth Richardson as his Minister ofFinance, continued what a Labour cabal consisting of Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Peter Dunne, Michael Bassett, et al, had started: de-regulating the economy.

The new mantra was “De-regulation, good. Government regulation, bad”.

It was a childishly simplistic notion, and one that would cost us dearly in terms of vast sums of money; destroyed dreams; and lives lost.

The years passed. The 20th Century turned into the new 21st Century. The public became tired of National, and elected a new, Labour government, led by Helen Clark. Labour had a hard task of paying off a decade of accumulated debt and resolving deep social problems that were afflicting the country; growing poverty; high unemployment; increasing cases of poverty-related disease; lack of support for the country’s mentally ill;  a loss of state housing (National had sold off 13,000 state houses during it’s tenure); and other pressing matters.

There were also two silent time-bombs waiting in the shadows.

In the early 1990s, changes were made to the Building Act 1991/Building Regulations 1992  with several  subsequent amendments.

Effectively, these amendments de-regulated much of the industry, permitting untreated timber to be used where, previously, only treated varieties could be using for house construction. New materials could also be used that had not previously been common in residential building, including a newly fashionable “Meditteranean style”.

Similar de-regulatory events were to take place in Health & Safety, in 1992,  with regards to mining. In 1998 seven dedicated OSH mines inspectors were absorbed into OSH.  The disbanding of the mines inspectorate group, and moving its functions to the Department of Labour, had saved about $1 million. Health and safety (mines)  inspector, Michael Firmin,  was the sole inspector of mines left.

The bombs were set, and the fuses lit.

On 26 May 26 2001, the first “bomb” went off, with a NZ Herald article  revealing that a growing number of new or near-new houses were rotting because of lack of water-tightness.

On 19 November 2010, the second “bomb” went of at Pike River mine, as a methane explosion killed 29 mine-workers.

Investigation into both the “Leaky Homes Syndrome” and the Pike River disaster have one, inescapable common factor: regulations that were once in place, had been removed; altered; or watered-down. In both cases, de-regulation had meant a lack of direct responsibility for ensuring that whatever regulations did remain, were not observed.

Hopefully, New Zealand has learnt a harsh, expensive, and deadly lesson about de-regulation. Regulations are there for a reason. Like the road speed limit. We may not always like the nuisance that rules and regulations provide – but they exist for our safety and our financial security. (When the Huntly West mine blew up in 1992 there were no fatalites. (Former) Chief coal mine inspector Harry Bell had closed it down 36 hours before.)

If we give away regulation for expediency, or because it fits some trendy political free-market ideology – then be prepared  for the consequences. Because as sure as day follows night; there will be consequences.

One thing I have noticed about my generation, the “Baby Boomers”; we seem to be child-like in so many respects. We are  impatient – we want it now. Until the Cullen Fund – we didn’t want to save for our retirement (the Fund had to bribe us with a $1,000 kick-start from the government – ie, us, the taxpayer). We accepted tax-payer funded free education from our parents – only to abandon it and force User-Pays on our own children, through Student Fees. Charming.

We ignore complicated social issues – in favour of displaced penguins and “Wellywood” signs. We lose interest in matters that demand our long-term attention – a fact that politicians are aware of, and exploit to their benefit.

By god, we need to grow up. Because, collectively, we are still making incredibly bad or stupid decisions based on self-interest and short-term gain.

Our lack of collective wisdom; our inability to see things long-term; our willingness to accept short-term gain – and never mind the consequences – should give us cause for concern.

Unfortunately, I am pessimistic that we will “grow up” any time soon. In fact, I await the next silent “bomb” that is ticking away, somewhere, in the shadows. How much will it cost us? And will we pay dearly, in lives?

Postscript: following the global banking crisis, Ireland is now bankrupt and a fiscal basket-case needing bail-outs from the EU to survive.